Today is apparently the anniversary of The Hand that Signed the Paper winning the Miles Franklin award. Previously it had won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award. These are two of Australia’s most prestigious writing awards.
However, a few years later it was revealed that the author Helen Demidenko was not from the Ukrainian background she had claimed. Instead she came from a British family and her real name was Darville.
There was uproar in the literary world resulting in the once lauded book now being panned and labelled a hoax.
I found this turn around to be a symptom of snobbish hypocrisy. Does the author’s life and background have any bearing on the literary quality of a book? Even if the author lied about her identity – does it make the book itself and the quality of the writing any less award-worthy?
Surely the book should have been given the awards solely on the quality of the book itself and NOT be conditional upon the character and identity of its author. If the book wasn’t considered worthy afterwards, it should never have been considered worthy before Demidenko/Darville’s true identity was discovered.
Maybe this case gives a glimpse into the world of award giving – that awards given (supposedly) for the merit of a work, are very much influenced by “celebrity”, that the IMAGE and personality of the author has as much influence over awards as the quality of their work.
If they ARE being swayed by such influences we have reason to question the integrity of these kinds of awards.
Or maybe, just maybe the book DID have merit and the storm afterwards was an attempt to save face, being embarrassed over swallowing the author's OTHER fiction regarding her own identity. No one like to be exposed as one of those suckers born every minute.