What is “Asian”?

The Complete Review links to an interesting article about the Man Asian Prize.

Here is the write-up about the prize from the organization itself:

This major new literary prize aims to recognise the best of new Asian literature and to bring it to the attention of the world literary community. A distinguished panel of judges selects a single work of fiction to be awarded the prize each year. Works submitted for consideration must not yet be published in English, although they may have been published in other languages.

The prize was initiated through Man Group plc, a leading global financial services firm based in London, and the Hong Kong Literary Festival, the premier event of its kind in Asia.

Here is the official Man Asian Literary Prize Web site.

The difficulty, of course, is that Asia is such a diverse region, including more than half the world’s population, stretching from Turkey to Japan. Complicating matters, is finding the right judges.

How far do Asians identify themselves as Asian, though? I cannot answer this question in historical or economic terms, but when it comes to literature, we have our barriers up. Even well-read Indians would find it difficult to name Korea’s greatest authors, Sri Lanka is not necessarily interested in the literature of Malaysia, Japan isn’t reading the best of Pakistani writing. And when we do read each other, we stick with authors who have been identified for us chiefly by curious Western readers in the media or in publishing. This is not such a bad thing—literature is an open community, and I don’t care who’s picking out the good stuff so long as the good stuff gets to me.

The Man Asian Literary Prize has its heart in the right place—it’s open specifically to literary fiction written in any Asian language that have not yet been published in English. This could do a lot to reverse the “Iceberg effect” that many writers suffer from—if you’re not published in English, you’re invisible to all but a small percentage of your potential readers.

But the controversy that’s grown around the 2007 Prize rests in the details. Nury Vittachi, the writer who came up with the idea behind the prize, has been effectively sidelined by Peter Goran, the prize administrator. Both men have played key roles—without Vittachi’s idea, there would have been no prize, without Goran’s flair for management, there would have been just a magnificent idea floating in mid-air. Without getting into the politics of the Prize, here’s the gist of the controversy.

Vittachi feels that an Asian prize deserves Asian judges.

The article is here.

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