Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here Come The Judges

Each October, we announce the three judges for The Story Prize. This year, we're thrilled to have former New Yorker fiction editor, onetime Random House Editor-in-Chief, and author Daniel Menaker (left); Rick Simonson (center) of The Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle; and author and One Story editor Hannah Tinti (right). I'll be posting more detailed information about each judge over the next few days. Suffice it to say, we think we have an exceptional and exceptionally qualified group of judges for 2008.

In the meantime, here are some answers to some questions you might have about the judges' role and The Story Prize's approach to judging:

How do you decide the composition of the panel?
Traditionally, each year one of the judges for The Story Prize is a writer. We alternate between an independent bookseller and a librarian for the second judge. We've had editors, critics, and bloggers as the third. And some judges have fallen into more than one category.

Why not have only writers judge, as most other book awards do?
We think having a more diverse group of judges adds an interesting dimension to the process. The short story doesn't only belong to writers. Readers, teachers, students, librarians, booksellers, editors, and critics are also part of the short story community. And we want to associate as many different types of people as we can and give a wider range of people a connection with the prize.

How does the judging work?
Each judge reads the three books that Founder Julie Lindsey and I choose as finalists in early January and then votes for his or her favorite. The process is confidential--we never disclose what book a given judge voted for.

What happens if each judge votes for a different book, resulting in a tie?
The judges also give us their second choices to serve as tie-breakers. If this, too, isn't definitive, and we can't break the tie after consulting with the judges, Julie Lindsey and I decide the winner. That hasn't happened yet.

Why don't the judges also choose the finalists?
There are two reasons for this. One is that, in our view, it's too much to ask of the judges. The Story Prize receives approximately seventy five entries each year, which would require a lot of time and attention on their part. We want this to be fun, not onerous. In addition, we believe a two-tiered system, in which we choose the finalists and then turn the final decision over to a group of outside experts to choose the winner, is the best way to do it.

Who have the judges been in previous year?
2007/8: Author/critic David Gates, librarian Patricia Groh, editor Megan O'Rourke
2006/7: Author Edwidge Danticat, blogger Ron Hogan, bookseller Mitchell Kaplan
2005/6: Author Andrea Barrett, librarian Nancy Pearl, critic James Wood
2004/5: Author Dan Chaon, bookseller Ann Christophersen, editor Brigid Hughes