Scottish Book Trust Responds to Jura Confusion

By Neal Comment

The Scottish Book Trust issued a quick clarification last week after I reported on the confusion surrounding the awarding of a one-month literary retreat on the Isle of Jura to Philip Gourevitch, said confusion arising because the program was originally announced for fiction and poetry writers only. Since then, the confusion has, in some circles, turned to outright frustration, to the extent that I’ve heard people question the seemliness of a literary jury which included New Yorker editor Alice Quinn giving its prize to a staff writer at the magazine. (Of course, you can’t hand out a literary award these days without somebody casting aspersions on either the winner or the judges, so I’ll leave the significance of this complaint to your individual deliberation.)

Scottish Book Trust CEO Marc Lambert welcomed the opportunity my email queries gave him to clear the air. “It’s important to The Scottish Book Trust that your readers understand that the judging panel brought a very high standard of consideration and knowledge to bear on the applicants,” he wrote, “and that the award was made on merit by a team of professionals eminently qualified to make exactly that judgment. As it happens, the independently arrived at decision of all five judges was unanimously for Mr Gourevitch. This being the case, your readers will recognise the mathematical impossibility of anything other than a very clear and straightforward result.”

As for the initial confusion about how a nonfiction writer took the prize, Lambert explains that after the November launch party in New York, “it was pointed out that excluding non-fiction writers from eligibility was hardly in Orwell’s spirit and that there were many great American writers who would be denied the opportunity to apply if the guidelines remained as they were. In early December we agreed that a modification to the guidelines was appropriate. At the time, as now, we regarded this as a positive step, correcting an oversight, widening the net and demonstrating our flexibility and responsiveness as an organisation.” He says this new guideline, approved in mid-December, was added to the guidelines on the retreat’s website, but due to oversight was omitted from the downloadable application form; “hence the confusion in some quarters.” (Including this quarter—after all, my first report on the subject was based on checking the online application right after hearing about the outcome, when no changes appeared to have been made. The URL has since been modified to redirect to the retreat’s basic introduction.)

“Scottish Book Trust is delighted that Mr Gourevitch and Larissa MacFarquhar will be coming to Scotland this summer,” Lambert concludes. “We believe that the Isle of Jura Writer Retreat programme represents one of the best opportunities available to writers of stature anywhere in the world, and we are proud to be offering it in the best traditions of Scottish hospitality and literary endeavor.” Scottish hospitality? I can smell the haggis already!*

*And, as it happens, I love haggis! It’s just like meatloaf, really, only tastier.