Authors' Awards Eligibility Changes

Our Authors’ Awards celebrate writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry at all stages of their careers. We want to recognise and reward as many authors as possible for the contribution they make to literature. We believe to do so we need to change some of the eligibility criteria regarding citizenship and birthplace.

We act as trustees for three charitable funds to support young writers:  the Somerset Maugham Awards for published works of fiction; the Eric Gregory Awards for poetry; and the Betty Trask Prize and Awards for first novels.

At present, eligibility for the Somerset Maugham and Eric Gregory Awards is restricted to writers who are British subjects by birth and resident in the UK or Northern Ireland. The Betty Trask Prize is limited to Commonwealth citizens.

We feel that these criteria, written over 30 years ago, are no longer appropriate. Our awards and prizes should reflect and celebrate the diverse society that we live in today, and encourage writers from all backgrounds.

Our aim is not to turn these longstanding prizes into international awards. It is to ensure that writers working in Britain (or the Commonwealth in the case of the Betty Trask award) are not excluded simply by accident of birth.

We are applying to the Charity Commission to affect changes to the entry criteria that will make our awards more accessible. To do this we need your help.

For each of these awards we want to change the criteria to say that a ‘candidate for an award must be resident in Great Britain and Northern Ireland (or in the Commonwealth in the case of the Betty Trask award) for three years prior to the date of submission for the award, and writing in English’, removing the need for the applicant to be also be a British subject by birth (or a commonwealth citizen in the case of the Betty Trask award).

 

YOUR VIEWS

We welcome any thoughts you may have about these proposals, and encourage you to read the full consultation in detail.

We invite you to comment on the proposed terms for these three funds by commenting below or emailing our Chief Executive Nicola Solomon – nsolomon@societyofauthors.org.

It would be helpful to know your opinions on the questions below but your comments need not be limited to those questions:

1) Do you agree that nationality is an appropriate factor for an applicant to qualify for an award?

2) Do you agree that three years’ residence in Great Britain and Northern Ireland (or the Commonwealth in the case of the Betty Trask award)  is an appropriate factor for an applicant to qualify?

3) Do you agree that the awards should be restricted to applicants writing in English?

4) Do you have any other comments on the proposed application for a Charity Commission Scheme to vary the existing trusts?

The consultation will run until the end of November.

COMMENTS

Eberekpe Whyte Anthony Ogho (23/03/2017 11:45)
" How does one participate in the award being a member of the society and an author?"
Mary Phil Korsak (28/11/2016 10:40)
" Thank you for reaching out to members to ask for their views. I appreciate the dynamic. A British Citizen, living in Brussels, 81 years old, I look at Poetry Awards with a wry smile and wish the best of luck to those who receive them. I have to my credit two Bible translations "At the start... Genesis made new A translation of the Hebrew text", Doubleday NY 1993 and "Glad News from Mark A translation of the Greek text", self-published 2014. I perceive these texts as poetry!!!"
penelope shuttle (27/11/2016 05:01)
" I agree with the proposed changes to the awards and feel that they will reflect the many social changes that have taken place since the awards were instigated.
I was supported by an Eric Gregory Award as a young woman poet, and was glad to serve on the judging panel for these awards for five years in the late 90s when I witnessed a great increase in the number of women poets receiving an Eric Gregory Award. The terms of the awards have been changed since they were set up in that the interviews the poets up for the Awards had to undergo have been, and rightly so, dropped.
I would wish to see the age restriction on the awards being lifted to allow poets who are making a late debut to benefit both from the financial help and to enable them to be recognised by the award."
Katrina Naomi (26/11/2016 01:08)
" It's time to reconsider these awards. I like the SoA's proposals. If people are living in the UK, then it's irrelevant where they were born. One thing I would question, is the cut off point of 30 for the Gregory award. A lot of people don't start writing poetry til much later in life. I'd like to find a way of recognising this in the UK's award system for 'new writers'. Thanks."
Tamar Yoseloff (24/11/2016 11:55)
" I am wholeheartedly in favour of opening up these awards to encompass writers who are resident in the UK but are not UK citizens. I think in these difficult times of post-Brexit transition, it is important for the Society to show that it has a worldwide view. I agree with other correspondents who do not feel there should be a restriction on the length of time a writer has been resident.

I also agree with correspondents who have called for a prize which does not restict by age; it would be good to expand the idea of 'emerging writers' to include those who develop their practice later in life."
Lizzie Ballagher (22/11/2016 05:07)
" Why not open things to writers from any nation (not just Commonwealth) whose first language is English?"
james sale (22/11/2016 04:13)
" Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this issue. I think it wrong to change the criteria of these competitions for at least three reasons. Primarily, as others have commented, because those who originally funded the set-up of the competitions did so for specific reasons; and there is no evidence presented that I saw that they wished their ‘Will’ to be overturned by modern preoccupations and issues, diversity or otherwise. It is an act of huge disrespect and presumption to overturn somebody’s ‘Will’ because we know better.

Second, one thread underpinning these proposed changes is the idea that limitations are bad and that removing them will make better – more inclusivity, more diversity, more … - competitions. Nothing could be further from the truth, for as all writers know it is through limitation and exclusivity that powerful effects are achieved. The analogy to what you are proposing might run something like this: fifty years ago somebody funds and sets up a Trust for writing sonnets for people born in the UK under 30. Now – in our new diverse society we say – hey, sonnets are difficult to write and nobody much does it these days, so let’s include haiku as entries, as that will make it more inclusive, more diverse. Can one not see how preposterous this is?

Finally, why has this come up now? I cannot help but suspect that it is the SoA’s way of rejecting Brexit. It’s a form of moral self-congratulation: the country may have voted to be out of Europe, but we still value everybody and everyone, and we are going to change the rules to show just that. I want a SoA that politics for authors, their contracts, their terms, their fundamental rights. Equality of people I take as a given. I do not want a SoA that is political with a big P – that is all about minorities, which whilst seemingly ‘right-on’ always proves detrimental to the majority, for if everyone can enter it dilutes the specialness of the defined groupings. In this case, let’s let the 30 under-somethings have their Gregory Award if born in this country. True, if we increase the age to under 65 I could submit myself! But frankly I don’t want to and I would like to leave the competitions as they are, and I hope the SoA does as well."
J.S. Watts (22/11/2016 04:05)
" I believe it is appropriate to keep the awards for writers writing in English. After all, are we not celebrating Britsh and Commonwealth literature with these awards? The definition of who is writing such literature should be broadened to reflect nationality irrespective of place of birth, and normal country of residence and publication, irrespective of nationality."
Pascale Petit (22/11/2016 03:57)
" I agree with and welcome this proposed change to the above mentioned awards, and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard it might happen. When I was younger, I was never eligible for the awards because I'm not a British citizen, even though I'm classed as a UK poet and contribute to this culture, and have now been resident here for over fifty years. The UK poetry scene has much changed since these prizes began, now looks outwards, and some of the best young poets are of other nationalities and bring vital diversification and enrichment to the culture. I hope that they will soon be eligible to apply or be nominated. Considering that there are more immigrant artists now, making very exciting work, bringing fresh, first-hand experience of what is happening globally, I suggest that the 3 year condition of residency is not applied, but that they should be resident at the time of application. I have mentored for all three of The Complete Works: Promoting Quality and Diversity in British Poetry projects, and can personally attest to the extraordinary quality of writing by these poets from other cultures and backgrounds, and the fresh insights and outlooks they bring with their diverse heritages."
Michael W. Thomas (22/11/2016 02:42)
" Writers from around the globe should be acknowledged. That said, another kind of diversity has long been part of British culture but, for too long, writers who were not from particular social and educational backgrounds have been largely ignored (or herded into subaltern groups like Stanza). I'd like to say that this is changing now but I doubt it. So I would welcome any change that opens up the doors for anyone, from Myanmar or Toxteth, who writes with impact."
John Rice (22/11/2016 02:39)
" Regarding the Somerset Maugham Awards and the Eric Gregory Awards, I am in full agreement with the alterations in the criteria that SoA has suggested. These will prove to be timely and exciting changes and will serve both artforms, fiction and poetry, justly.

I also support the Society's suggested changes to the criteria for application to the Betty Trask Award.

SoA needs to be in touch with contemporary authorship and I heartily support these changes."
Peter Sheal (22/11/2016 01:55)
" I agree with Helena Drysdale that the intentions of the people who set up these prizes should be honoured and not treated in a cavalier way. The nationality criteria should be retained - have the Pulitzer prize and Prix Goncourt been opened up to British writers?
However, the increasing number of discriminatory prizes should be discouraged i.e. discrimination on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity etc. Like identity politics, identity prizes are corrosive of the common good. Are there any special prizes for white middle-aged men?"
Sarah Hesketh (22/11/2016 01:50)
" I agree that deciding eligibility for a UK based prize based solely on country of birth no longer accurately reflects our increasingly mobile, diverse, global population and I would like to see this criteria removed from the Maugham and Gregory prizes. However, if the awards are to maintain some kind of identity and to remain an indicator of high quality work currently being produced in the UK and Northern Ireland, then I do think that those submitting should be currently resident at the time of submission. I don't really see the benefit of a 3 year restriction?"
K. Crawford (22/11/2016 01:42)
" I should add that I think it would be particularly desirable, in the current situation, for the awards to be open to those people living here who are seeking asylum and refuge."
K. Crawford (22/11/2016 01:41)
" I have lived in England for about twenty years, non-consecutively, both studying and working here.
For most of that time, I would have been ineligible for most of these awards, as I didn't fulfil their requirements for legal residency/citizenship. (And by now I don't meet some of their age requirements!)
I think that somewhat broader and more generous guidelines would better reflect the reality of writers actually living here. (Though I agree with the previous comments that fewer restrictions in general would probably be most helpful to writers overall.)"
Stephanie Green (22/11/2016 01:15)
" I agree that the Gregory Award and the Somerset Maugham award should be opened up to include poets in English who have lived in the U.K. for at least 3 years.

The age restriction of these awards militates against the vast number of women who cannot develop a writing career because of having children. I can appreciate that the founders of these awards want to encourage young talent but perhaps the age requirements of the awards could be widened to include debuts for older poets which have occurred in the last, say, three years. Perhaps another award for over 30's is the answer, but failing a benefactor coming forward, a widening of the EG and SM is the way forward."
Julie Callan (The Poetry Goddess) (22/11/2016 12:46)
" I believe that these awards should be left as they stand. lt would go against the spirit and original intention of the awards if they were changed. New awards could be instigated, to reflect diversity. I would especially be pleased to see more for older writers. I wouldn't mind paying a few pounds extra on my membership fee in support of this.
Thank you for giving members the chance to express their opinions."
Margaret Holbrook (22/11/2016 12:18)
" I don't see the point in changing the criteria for the awards, they are what they are. All competitions have restrictions these are no different in that respect. Some competitions run in this country (playwriting in particular) are only for people from other than UK ethnicity, so restrictions again; it doesn't do any harm for people to have to abide to rules occasionally."
Atar Hadari (22/11/2016 11:53)
" 1) I agree the nationality by birth requirement should be changed.
2) I think legal residency of the UK is sufficient and parallels the guidelines of many US awards
3) I think the awards should be open to poems in English translation but then split equally or otherwise between poet and translator. This too follows the recent precedent set by the Booker Prize."
Zita Adamson (21/11/2016 10:54)
" I think it would be right to vary the original criteria of these awards, applying a three or five year residency test instead of a 'birth' test. If the donors had been living today in our diverse society, it's likely that they would set up the trusts in this way.

I don't agree with the comments made by some that one should open up the awards to anyone from anywhere...firstly this would be to disregard the wishes of those who set up the awards and I think that would be wrong. Secondly, in the current publishing climate British writers are at a huge disadvantage compared to their American counterparts - publishers take less of a risk when they publish a book by an American author as that author has such a huge home market compared to UK writer and also UK readers will read a book by American writers but apparently Amercian readers are much less willing to read books by UK writers (all those unfamiliar words to contend with!). So I don't see anything wrong in a UK-based authors' society nurturing UK-based writing talent. Thirdly, one has to be pragmatic and realistic about the work involved in judging such competitions. One has to set some restrictions or the workload simply becomes unmanageable.

I do agree though with the many comments about the 'ageism' of the awards. What about some new awards aimed at people over 35! As several people have commented, many women only really are able to start writing properly in later years once their children are off their hands. I do feel these age restrictions discriminate against women."
Rowena Macdonald (21/11/2016 10:06)
" I don't think these prizes should be opened up worldwide but I think they could be opened up to those writing in English, whatever their nationality, so long as they have lived in the U.K. for three years. On another point, it is ageist that all these prizes are for young people. I am about to publish my first novel but it won't be eligible for any of these prizes because I am 42. There are plenty of writers who publish their debuts after the age of 35 or 40 or whatever the arbitrary cut-off point for these prizes."
Sarah Duncan (21/11/2016 09:59)
" If the SoA wants to make the award criteria more inclusive why not remove the age restrictions? One could argue that the age barrier unfairly disadvantages women, who often begin writing later.

Inclusion, in this instance, is a chimera. There are always lines drawn somewhere - Why over 18? What about the talented 17 year old? Why three years residency? What about two years? Or ten? Some people will be excluded regardless of where the lines are drawn, unless the awards are open to all, regardless of nationality, residence, age etc.

In addition, the wishes of the original donors should be respected - especially if the SoA wants to encourage further generosity from future donors."
Helena Drysdale (20/11/2016 02:41)
" I strongly disagree that you should consider changing the criteria for these awards. They are what they are. At the charity of which I am a trustee, we respect the wishes of donors, and would risk putting off potential philanthropists if we were to tamper with those wishes. By all means set up new awards with different criteria."
Sue B (20/11/2016 11:46)
" As someone who is thinking of setting up a trust, I am rather appalled that the trustees might think they can override my wishes at some point in the future - and will be asking my lawyer to make sure that my wishes are set in stone.
I whole-heartedly agree that there should be more awards which are open to a wider range of applicants - in which case it would be better for the SoA to:
a) draw up some guidelines for would-be philanthropists;
b) publicise how much money might be needed for one or more of such awards;
c) campaign for contributions / donations - these need not just be from within the SoA - there are plenty of organisations which are keen to encourage diversity;
d) meanwhile respecting the wishes of those original donors who 'trusted' the SoA to administer their wishes."
Abigail (29/09/2016 07:21)
" I write solely in English and have studied creative writing within British institutions, but since I am Maltese and live in Malta I am excluded from a lot of competitions. Restrictions based on nationality and country of residence are, in my opinion, unfairly exclusive, especially if one is to take account of postcolonial realities. A plurality of Englishes is bound to lead to a plurality of literary voices that deserve to be heard irrespective of biographical details."
Stefania Hartley (28/09/2016 11:04)
" As an Italian living in the UK and married to British citizen, I would be delighted if nationality restrictions were removed from prizes. It would be a friendly outstretched hand to soothe the slaps in the face we have received with Brexit."
Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner (27/09/2016 09:11)
" I live in Vienna, Austria. To the creative world, especially with regard to eligibility for writing prizes, that might as well be an admission to residing in the moon. Take a look at the Tom Gallon Prize for example...you are only eligible if you live in the UK. And then there is the EFG prize....with this one, you are eligible only if you have been published already and, that's right, in the UK. Now, most organisations for writers say their aim is to promote and encourage writers (by 'writers' one presumes not just writers in the UK or 'published' writers). The question that begs an answer is, should only 'published' writers be encouraged and promoted? It is a known fact that in piles and piles of unpublished work often reside amazing writings waiting to be uncovered. Don't the writers of these works deserved to be given opportunity to showcase their work? After all, another well known knowledge is that it is not an easy task for a new writer to have his or her work discovered. Why then make it doubly hard by excluding them from certain prizes that stand them in better chances of getting exposure? Finally, lest we forget, J K Rowling was once an unpublished writer. Imagine if she never got the break she did, her work would have been some of those languishing in some dust-encrusted cabinet just because they were not 'eligible' for one prize or another.

My point in all the above rambling? OPEN UP PRIZES AND COMPETITIONS TO 'UNPUBLISHED' AUTHORS AS WELL AS AUTHORS NOT RESIDING IN THE UK.

Finally, I am, a full member of the Society of Authors. Surely that ought to count for something?"
Guest visitor (22/09/2016 11:10)
" With regard to your proposal to change the eligibility criteria for various awards administered by the SoA - I would like to register my strong disagreement with the proposed criteria, even while applauding the effort to open up the prizes to a greater diversity of voices.

Paradoxically, I do not believe that altering the criteria in this way this will bring greater diversity to published work at all. On the contrary.

British universities charge what to many are preventatively high 'foreign student' fees to British students who have not been physically living in the UK for 3 years before their studies begin. This criterion, widely resented, penalises or even excludes those pupils who have taken a gap year or undertaken any other form of perspective-broadening international experience.

Changing the eligibility of your prizes to also entail a fixed-term residency requirement will similarly restrict the breadth of the author's experience and the vision of the work to be judged.

Any author who has gone abroad for research, who has had to go abroad for family or personal reasons, or who has simply sought to broaden their life experience outside the UK, will not be eligible for these prizes.
Excluded, too, will be UK writers who have gone abroad on a writer's residency, those who have teaching commitments elsewhere, or who have moved because whole swathes of Britain have simply become too costly on a writer's income. Those writers who have to care for ageing parents living abroad will also be excluded, as will those accompanying a partner who has had to go overseas for work or personal reasons.

Instead, it seems to me that the awards will privilege those with the good fortune to live in the UK, and who most likely write about Britain.

The 3-year residency requirement seems hard to justify. Why not 5 years? Why not 10? Why not require residency simply at the time of submitting an application for an award? Unless it is a specifically UK-oriented vision the awards seek to commend, the time limit seems arbitrary and counterproductive.

And what is residency anyway - the right to remain? Full passport ownership? At a time when border issues are making international cultural exchanges increasingly difficult, with foreign nationals denied entry for performances and festivals, surely it would be advisable to steer clear of such limitations.

By all means broaden the scope of eligibility. But if you truly want to encourage a diversity of authorship and point of view, you could consider allowing any UK-passport-holder writing in English to be eligible. In most cases, the acquisition of a UK passport already entails a residency requirement anyway.

For the Betty Trask awards, it seems to me that the proposed changes would now exclude all Commonwealth writers not based in the UK. That would be a pity now that the Commonwealth Writers' awards have been diminished to a short story prize, and also because these UK-based awards may be the only hope for international attention many of these writers will ever get. Often, it is that which gets them proper recognition at home. Let the Society of Authors, in the name of diversity, be brave enough, generous enough, worldly enough to continue to encourage Commonwealth writers, not cut them out.

I would argue firmly against making these awards dependent on an arbitrary, fixed term of residency in the UK. At a time when Britain has just voted to leave the European Union, pouring cold water on the efforts of millions of Britons who have sought to make Britain a more open and internationally aware place, this makes the society appear inward-looking and parochial, not more diverse. It suggests a closing-down rather than an opening-up to the world."
Gillian Bickley (22/09/2016 11:09)
" I think it is good for eligibility to enter competitions to be as wide as possible.

One additional category omitted from this discussion is that of those born in the UK who live overseas. Presently I, for example, could not enter most literary competitions because I myself fall into this category.

The newly-founded annual international Proverse Poetry Prize (single poems) is open to all eighteen years old or over, irrespective of nationality, citizenship or place of residence. This was founded in direct response to the eligibility limitations of most other literary prizes."
Despina Katsirea (22/09/2016 10:53)
" I completely agree with the Society of Authors view that the criteria of the above mentioned awards should change in order to reflect the society we live today.
What was happening many years ago should not apply now due to the circulation of people around the globe.
Nationality should not be an impediment to a work of literature, it should be only judged on its merits."
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