Source : Scroll.in
With the omission of several strong titles, particularly by women authors, what can we make of this year’s shortlists?
The Crossword Book Awards were started in 1998 (the year after Arundhati Roy won The Booker Prize for The God of Small Things and achieved worldwide fame) as a home-grown alternative, or rather supplement, to international literary awards – one that would focus on literature in English from India.
In their first year, the prize consisted of a single category, which has expanded over twenty years to include four Jury Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and six Popular Choice Awards decided by public votes. The Crossword Book Awards are an eclectic mix of literary and accessible, which is characteristic of the chain of bookstores across the country – currently ninety stores and counting.
This year’s shortlist for the Crossword Jury Award for Indian Fiction is an all-male gathering of writers that includes two first-time authors, two established names, and one lesser-known writer turning his attention to fiction for the first time. Of the nineteen previous winners of the Crossword Award for Indian Fiction, only five have been women – Usha KR, Kalpana Swaminathan, Anjali Joseph, Anuradha Roy, and Janice Pariat.
The shortlist has some notable exclusions, even keeping in mind that only original works of fiction in English published between April 2017 and June 2018 were eligible for this category. Books that have been otherwise well-received or shortlisted for other literary prizes or both, yet are missing from this shortlist, are the new works of previous winners such as Pariat’s The Nine-Chambered Heart and Roy’s All The Lives We Never Lived as well as Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You, Sumana Roy’s Missing, Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints, and Amitabha Bagchi’s Half The Night is Gone.
While it wasn’t possible for each of these titles to have made the shortlist, it’s worth bearing in mind some of the literature the shortlisted books were up against. The above list (though it is short and not comprehensive) is also a reminder that Indian fiction in English by women has had a particularly strong couple of years – a fact that makes an all-male shortlist harder to justify.
The Crossword Book Awards have a separate category for literature translated into English, as do the majority of literary prizes that consider translated works. Among the few exceptions to that rule are the newly-established JCB Prize for Literature – whose inaugural shortlist featured two works of translation alongside three novels originally written in English – and The Hindu Prize, which now considers translations alongside original works in English, and features two translated works on its shortlist.