Autumn is well and truly upon us now, which means award season has arrived with aplomb. Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, George Saunders won the Man Booker for Lincoln in the Bardo, and the Costa shortlist is on the way too.
But what if you’re a little bit bored of seeing the same few people pick the same few books – and the same style of writing – to win the big prizes again and again? Here’s our rundown of the top five literary awards that are a flying under the radar and having far more fun!
Aside from having possibly the best name of any literary prize ever (who wouldn’t want to say they’d won The Firecracker!?), these awards have a noble aim. Based in the US, hosted by the CLMP (Community of Literary Magazines and Presses) and running since 1996, The Firecracker Awards celebrate the best literature published by independent presses or individuals in the past 12 months, championing sparkling literary voices that the big publishers aren’t willing to take risks on in the current publishing climate. They work closely with American Bookseller Association and consider the opinions of booksellers first and foremost, across categories including Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, Poetry and Literary Magazines.
The Firecracker’s Fiction category was won by Ananda Devi in 2017, for Eve Out of Her Ruins (Deep Vellum Press); the story of the island of Mauritius that the tourists don’t see – one of poverty, violence and lives lived at the margins of society
Waverton is a small village in Cheshire, UK. It has a post office, a pub and a primary school, fewer than 2,000 residents and – since 2003 – it’s very own literary prize. Waverton residents Wendy Smedley and Gwen Goodhew started the prize with the aim to stimulate reading in the village and provide encouragement to British debut writers, and their scope has grown, year on year. It is the first British award to be judged solely by ordinary readers rather than the literary establishment, (anyone who lives in Waverton can participate) and publishers are taking increasing note.
Past winners have included The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, and a host of other debut authors who’ve gone on to do great things, but The Waverton Good Read Award’s charm is in its honesty. This is all about reader enjoyment, not marketing hype, pretentiousness or what publishers want to sell.
The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is the UK's only literary award for comic literature. Established in 2000 and named after of P. G. Wodehouse, it’s become known as the Oscar for comic writing. Past winners include Alexander McCall Smith and Terry Pratchett, and in 2017 it was won by Helen Fielding for her latest outing of everyone’s favourite singleton in Bridget Jones‘s Baby. Although this award is now a firm favourite on the literary calendar, it’s worth including for the emphasis it places on pure fun in reading, making so many highly popular authors such as Fielding eligible to win and have their success recognised when they’re often overlooked by more ‘highbrow’ awards. It’s also worth including for having the best prize out of any award we discovered; a jeroboam of Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée, 52 volumes of the Everyman Wodehouse edition, and a Gloucestershire Old Spots pig named in your honour!
Publishing is also awash with genre awards, celebrating excellence in all manner of niche literary corners, and none more dark and shady than the Lord Ruthven. This award is presented annually by the Lord Ruthven Assembly, a group of academic scholars from across the globe who specialise in vampires. As well as recognising bloody fabulous vampire fiction, they also provide an award for the best academic work on the study of the vampire figure in culture and literature. The award is named after Lord Ruthven, one of the first vampires in English literature. He appeared in the 1816 Gothic novel Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb, and was allegedly based on the real-life Lord Byron – a former lover of Lady Caroline who evidently left a less than favourable impression!
In 2017 the Lord Ruthven fiction category was won by esteemed vampire aficionado Anne Rice for novel, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis.
The Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year – commonly known as the Diagram Prize – is a humorous literary award run annually by the Frankfurt Book Fair, and awarded to the book with the most unusual title in the previous 12 months. It’s been running since 1978 and, since 2000, the winner has been decided by public vote. In 2008, more people voted in the Diagram Prize’s deliberations (8,500 votes) than The Best of Booker Prize (7,800), proving our point that sometimes all we want is a bit of light relief! That’s not to say its all fun and games, however. The Diagram Prize has been embroiled in controversy in recent years, as some publishers have been accused of picking deliberately ridiculous book titles in the hope of a nomination. Still, it’s hard to fake true quality. Notable winners include the 2003 champion, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, 2011’s Cooking with Poo and 1986’s Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality.
The most recent winner, in July 2017, was The Commuter Pig Keeper: A Comprehensive Guide to Keeping Pigs when Time is your Most Precious Commodity by Michaela Giles. Rolls off the tongue!Click here for more great bookish articles, and to find books you’ll love and readers like you.