Naomi Klein, the Canadian activist, journalist and author – having flown across the Atlantic to receive the award – was the first ever winner of the inaugural Warwick Prize for writing and the £50,000 prize money attached to it.
The author – who first surfaced when her work seminal work No Logo was published – was represented by her work Shock Doctrine, a work which argues that neo-liberals often exploit catastrophes – such as the Iraq war – as opportunities to implement privatisation and laissez-faire economics. It had beaten off stiff competition from the five other works on the shortlist under the heading “complexity.” Francisco Goldmann’s The Art of Political Murder: Who killed the bishop? took the runner-up position.
Other short-listers were Enrique Vila-Matas for Montano’s Malady., the lone novel to make the list; Lisa Appignanesi with Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present; Stuart Kaufmann’s Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion, and finally The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross.
The award, which completes the first step of Vice Chancellor Nigel Thrift’s so-called ‘Vision 2015’, was the joint brainchild of Thrift and David Morely, director of the university’s celebrated Creative Writing programme. It seeks to reward excellency and innovation in any substantial form of writing, in any genre and any form. It distinguishes itself from other literary prizes in its acceptance, and indeed promotion, of non-fiction texts (only one novel made this year’s list).
Thrift, for whom the evening meant the realisation of the first part of his vision for the development of the university, and who initiated the proceedings, seemed genuinely humbled by the occasion, perhaps even a touch nervous. Asserting that the prize embodied Warwick, he said he hoped it would help foster the sense of internationalism and innovation inherent to the university.
The prize itself was presented by China Mieville, himself a celebrated author of what he has referred to as “weird fiction.” Mieville, who chaired the prize’s panel of judges, described the decision making process as, “horrible, both an honour and a responsibility,” praising the level of competition as fierce. The works were considered by a five-strong panel consisting of Mieville himself, Ian Stewart (Professor of Mathematics at Warwick), the journalist Maya Jagi, translator, novelist and literary expert Maureen Freely, and Stephen Mitchelmoore, a high-profile literary blogger.
The evening had a distinctive left-wing feel to it, epitomised by Klein’s speech. “It’s impossible not to be a Marxist tonight,” chortled English and Creative Writing finalist Nima David Seifi. Klein, who suffered stinging criticism by the right-wing press until the beginning of the financial crisis last September, reserved her most acerbic criticism for economist Alan Greenspan, who many have blamed as the intellectual basis for the events which caused the current economic situation. She attacked a “pseudo complexity” in the media and political world, which for years shielded Greenspan and the Chicago School of economists from sustained criticism and market regulation.
She further characterised the prize as “subversive, you’ve crashed the literary in-club!” And, in a well-delivered joke which characterised her convivial and consummate speech, she told Thrift et al, “you’ve also managed to do it without sponsorship … imagine if we had participated in the HBOS Warwick Literary Prize.” Indicating her husband, she quipped: “I know why there are less female intellectuals. It’s because there are less feminist husbands.”
Mieville also took the opportunity to announce the theme of next year’s award: colour, suggesting that people should get to work immediately on preparing works; with Klein as inaugural winner, the prize looks set to become much-coveted.