What, no poetry? Prosaic reception for new book awards

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It seemed like the best of news when it was announced that Caffè Nero was launching a new set of writing awards, a year after fellow coffee shop chain Costa scrapped its popular book awards.

Like the Costa prizes, the Nero book awards will choose winners in various categories. These categories are mostly the same as the Costas were: children’s books, debut fiction, fiction and non-fiction. However, there will not be a poetry category in the prize’s inaugural year.

Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association, said the emphasis would be on “commercial books with wide appeal”. A spokesperson for the awards said: “These are a brand-new set of awards, developed in partnership with Caffè Nero and the Booksellers Association. The chosen categories reflect the main genres readers are most likely to find/see when they visit a bookshop or online retailer. As the awards become established over time, it’s possible additional categories could be added in the future.”

The Costa book awards were scrapped suddenly in 2022, in what the company’s CEO Jill McDonald described as a “difficult decision”. The awards began in 1971, and were known as the Whitbread book awards until 2005, when Costa took over the running and financing.

The last Costa book of the year winner, in 2022, was former teacher Hannah Lowe, for her book of sonnets, The Kids, drawing on her experiences teaching in an inner-city sixth form, and which had first won the Costa poetry prize.

But no poetry category in the new awards? Surely some mistake? Surely it couldn’t be anything to do with the fact that the odd poet has had a pop at Caffe Nero in the past?

Steve Pottinger, who has campaigned about the coffee chain’s policies on paying tax, was dismissive  on Twitter: “We have prizes. We have countless competitions. The idea that being included/excluded in one more prize run by a business trying to buff up its corporate image is going to make any real difference to poetry and its profile is an idea I don't buy.”


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Uilleam Ó Ceallaigh

Mon 29th May 2023 09:15

"Ars gratia artis" was once deemed a rule of thumb,
"Follow the money", and speech fascism now make us dumb.

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