You Try Impressing Zadie Smith With Your Short Story

By Neal Comment

zadie2.jpgZadie Smith has been judging the Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize since 2006, but this year’s competition ran into a bit of a snag. “We received a whole bunch of stories,” she writes on the Willisden blog. “We dutifully read through hundreds of them. But in the end—we have to be honest—we could not find the greatness we’d hoped for. It’s for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year.” There was no entry fee required, so it’s not like anybody’s pocketing money on this, but still, contestants aren’t going to feel good about being told by the judges that “we got into this with a commitment to honour the best that’s out there, and we feel sure there is better out there somewhere.”

Smith frames the suspension of the award as a commitment to literary integrity over marketing buzz, and then offers suggestions on how hopeful contestants might do better next year:

“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.”

Much of the subsequent commentary consists of anonymous people flaming other anonymous people, but one interesting point of contention is raised: Was a shortlist of ten writers drafted and presented to Smith before she decided to call the contest off? Apparently so: “The short list may be announced, er, shortly,” confirms one editor. “And the stories may be accessible to read, er, accessibly.”