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Why are there no prizes for promising old writers?
I asked myself this on Monday when I and 600 others gathered at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to hear the British writer Robert Macfarlane give the first annual Weston International Award Lecture, a prize (with $75,000) that Macfarlane had accepted two minutes earlier. Funded by the Westons and run by the Writers’ Trust of Canada, it’s the latest dish on a growing buffet of prizes for artists, and particularly for writers, to reward excellence (and Macfarlane is easily that), but more and more, to promote promise.
From medicine to movies, accounting to influencing, the world is awash in promise. That world, however, is largely limited to the young. Indeed, “promise” means you may someday have a brilliant future. So the world places a bet on you fulfilling that promise because you have many years ahead to do that.
There are also a rising number of ‘mid-career’ prizes, (including some by the Writers’ Trust) given to people with a couple of decades in the trenches, who need a little help to make their next work their big one. These, too, are ‘promise’ awards.
But there are few to no prizes for promising old writers.
True, there are lifetime achievement awards in writing and every endeavour from surgery to sky-diving. But 70-year-olds don’t get rewarded for their promise. Their glow comes from past performance.
I wonder why this is.
They will likely become frail and die sooner than the 25-year old manga novelist or even the 50-year-old mid-career poet. But the 75-year-old writer has a precious perspective, experience and focus that eludes pretty much everyone who’s younger. Surely, now that 75 is the new 60, their wisdom is worth rewarding.
2. Raccoons and prices are surging. Toronto’s raccoons are smarter than those in any other city. Why else would someone make a short doc on how they defeated the City’s $31 million campaign to remove them?
Also surging in pricing, i.e. your Uber ride suddenly costs much more after the Taylor Swift concert than the day before. But it’s worse: The Coach House pub in central London now charges an extra 20p per pint on weekends and busy evenings. Also now, AI lets Amazon change its prices every 10 minutes. The promise of ‘dynamic pricing’ proponents is that yes, costs may rise at busy times and for popular events. But they also fall at other times. But is that true? No, actually.
3. What is the Ig-Nobel Prize? “It’s like the weirdest f-ing thing that you’ll ever go to…it’s a collection of actual Nobel Prize winners giving away prizes to real scientists for doing f’d-up things…it’s awesome.” —Amanda Palmer. And,“These come with little cash, but much cachet, and reward those research projects that ‘first make people laugh, and then make them think'” — Nature. Here are this year’s winners.
7. The old voice of the enduring blindness. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner got in trouble this week when he was interviewed by The New York Times about his new book, The Masters, consisting of interviews of famous male white rock stars. Why no female rock stars? No Black rock stars? Wenner claimed they weren’t “intellectual enough.” It’s not that Wenner didn’t think about this before he chose whom to interview. I’m certain his publishers, Little Brown, warned him with rising panic that you just can’t put a book made up entirely of interviews with old rich white guys into the market. Especially about rock’n roll. I’m guessing their author overruled them.
8. I’m not feeling 100% this week. I have a condition that afflicts 4 billion people every year. True, half the human race is immune to it. But for those of us who have a man-cold, it’s misery.
9. There’s waves, then there’s these. Gravitational waves (discovered less than a decade ago) are the tsunamis of deep space. Their discovery won the Nobel Prize and they're at the top of the top 20 Scientific Discoveries of the Decade. If you want to dive deeply for 90 minutes into an incredibly moving, human story of discovery, it’s here.
11. How to complain. The Munich Philharmonic’s letter to German Rail begins, “What is wrong with you?”
12. What I’m liking. NASA taking UFO’s seriously. I have no idea what’s out there. But we do deserve to know what government and intelligence agencies know. Congress held hearings last month on UFO’s (now called UAPs) and now NASA is going to be watching harder than they ever have.