The choice to include 22-year-old British pop singer Lilly Allen on the jury next year for the prestigious Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, which is awarded to female authors, has sparked a debate over whether or not celebrities should judge literary contests. Joining Allen on the panel will be authors Philippa Gregory and Bel Mooney, journalist Kristy Lang, and Guardian Review editor Lisa Allardice.
What the commentators said
I sympathize “with those who query the paucity” of “serious critics (including authors) on book prize panels,” said Maya Jaggi in the Guardian Unlimited. Is it really possible for someone to “judge the originality or excellence of a work of fiction—two of the prize’s main criteria”—if he or she doesn’t possess “extensive, assiduously cultivated, knowledge of what has gone before?”
It’s true that Allen’s “greatest literary achievement was rhyming the words ‘door’ and ‘crackwhore’ in a song once,” said Stuart Heritage in the blog Heckler Spray. But Allen has “obviously been picked as an everyman judge, and her position as a role-model might even encourage more young girls to start reading for pleasure, when the bulk of them currently view it as a bit of a chore.”
Why is it that nowadays “the only people allowed, or paid, to offer any supposedly meaningful aesthetic opinions on anything are those who have achieved fame in some other area?” said Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian Unlimited’s Books blog. It’s really “patronizing, both to the authors being judged, and to the public, who are seen as not smart enough to be interested in anything unless a famous person is involved.”