Tuesday 5 February 2008


This is a message from Zadie Smith, in the announcement that after all, the Willesden Herald Competition is not going to award the prize.


And why on earth should they award it if nothing was good enough to win? People are already belly-aching about how the decision is discouraging to writers. But hang on a tick... Anon (probably Mimi!!) means someone ought to be given FIVE GRAND for something not good enough, just to encourage other writers? I fail to see the logic, Anon.

'What is happening? I wonder if it's the MFAs and MAs. If it's the careful and ploddy following of how other people 'do it'? A lack of bravery, a dipping toes in water that is freezing cold. Maybe writers are all going for the water warmed by hot water from kettles, poured by nanny and Mummy?

Maybe they are not taking any notice of zip and spark, and blood and gutsy characters?

Or maybe the other end of the spectrum, they didn't bother to LEARN any craft, and write bloody well.

rant over,

tis a shame the shortlisted writers had their hopes raised... that's hard. But this writing life ain't an easy ride.

This from Zadie Smith

I am very proud to be patron of this prize. I think there are few prizes of this size that would have the integrity not to award a prize when there is not sufficient cause to do so. Most literary prizes are only nominally about literature, they are really about brand consolidation – for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies even frozen food companies. The little Willesden Herald Prize is only about good writing, and it turns out that a prize faithfully recognizing this imperative must also face the fact that good writing is actually very rare. For let us be honest again: it is sometimes too easy, and too tempting, to blame everything that we hate in contemporary writing on the bookstores, on the corporate publishers, on incompetent editors and corrupt PR departments – and God knows, they all have their part to play. But we also have our part to play. We also have to work out how to write better and read better. We have to really scour this internet to find the writing we love, and then we have to be able to recognize its quality. We cannot love something solely because it has been ignored. It must also be worthy of our attention.

Once again, the judges and I, we are absolutely certain there is great writing out there on this internet. Many of the entries we received suggested it. But we didn’t receive enough. And now, in order to try and draw whatever great writing is out there towards this little website, maybe my fellow judges and I need to be a bit more specific about what we’re looking for. Actually, as it always is with writing and reading, it’s more useful to say what we’re not looking for.

For I have thought, reading through these entries, that maybe the problem with this prize is that my name is attached to it. To be very clear: just because this prize has the words Willesden and Zadie hovering by it, does not mean that I or the other judges want to read hundreds of jolly stories of multicultural life on the streets of North London. Nor are we exclusively interested in cutesy American comedies, or self-referential post-modern vignettes, or college satires. To be even clearer: if these things turn up and are brilliantly written, they will not be ignored. But we also welcome all those whose literary sympathies lie with Rimbaud or Capote, with Irving Rosenthal or Proust, with Svevo or Trocchi, with Ballard or Bellow, Denis Cooper or Diderot, with Coetzee or Patricia Highsmith, with street punks or Elizabethans, with Southern Gothic or with Nordic Crime, with Brutalists or Realists, with the Lyrical or the Encyclopedic, in the ivory tower, or amongst the trash that catches in the gutter. We welcome everybody. We have only one principle here: MAKE IT GOOD.

So, let’s try again, yes? All the requirements for entry you will find below.

I’m very sorry for any disappointment caused this year, but this prize will continue and we hope it will get stronger with each year that passes. And we promise you now and forever: it will never be sponsored by a beer company.

Yours sincerely,

Zadie Smith


1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

My feeling is that I would like to win the Willesden Herald Competition. I think after this, if people have any sense (which is asking a lot) they will join the dots and reach the same conclusion as I that the kudos attached to the prize has now gone up a notch or two. Hats off to the judges.