£15,000 prize for next Woolf or Orwell . . .
Among the writers to whom I return again and again are Montaigne, Johnson, Hazlitt, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, VS Pritchett, Neville Cardus, Jan Morris, Joan Didion, Ian Hamilton and Clive James – an extremely diverse bunch, I concede, but all linked through their mastery of the essay.
Sadly, publishing outlets for this most inquiring and ruminative – and often most revealing – of literary forms aren't as plentiful as they once were, which makes the Hazlitt Essay Prize all the more welcome.
The brainchild of Notting Hill Editions, which is dedicated to the publishing of essays (and recently issued two beautifully bound and printed volumes of Hubert Butler's essays), it offers a £15,000 (€17,540) first prize for an essay of between 2,000 and 8,000 words, whether previously published or not. The five runners-up will get £1,000 (€1,169) each.
Among the judges are Antonia Fraser and Adam Mars-Jones and the closing date is August 1. Further details can be had from www.nottinghilleditions.com/essay-prize.
In his most famous book, Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly mentioned "the pram in the hall" as among those inconvenient facts of life that are counter-productive to successful artistic endeavour. Tweaking this theme more than 70 years later, American journalist Lauren Sandler advises women writers to have no more than one child if they want to have a fruitful literary career.
Writing in a recent issue of The Atlantic, Sandler said she was struck by the fact that so many of the writers she revered were the mothers of lone children – among them Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker. And she approvingly quoted Walker for arguing that "with one you can move, with more than one you're a sitting duck".
Other women writers, though, have been quick to disagree – notably mother-of-three Jane Smiley, who just argues for better day care, and mother-of-two Zadie Smith, who witheringly retorted: "The idea that motherhood is inherently somehow a threat to creativity is just absurd."