October 14, 2014
New Catholic literary prize
by Nick Davies
A new literary prize with religious underpinnings has been established by America magazine and St. Thomas More Chapel at Yale University, Ron Charles reports for the Washington Post. Accompanied by a cash prize of $25,000, the George W. Hunt Prize is being funded by Fay Vincent, a lawyer and former commissioner of Major League Baseball.
The namesake for the award, Hunt was a priest who edited the Jesuit magazine America from 1984-1998. Recommended subjects for nominated books come from his own interests, including “Catholicism and civic life, Catholicism and arts & letters, spirituality, U.S. sports, U.S. history, jazz or classical music, American film and drama, and spirituality.”
The guidelines state that entrants must write in English, (oddly) be no older than 45 years old, and “should be familiar with the Roman Catholic tradition” and “should be a person of sound moral character and reputation and must not have published works that are manifestly atheistic or morally offensive.”
As Charles points out, this will undoubtedly make judging submitted books a difficult and unenviable task:
Heaven help the judges charged with divining which authors are of sound character and whose books are morally offensive. The juries I’ve served on have had enough trouble trying to determine if a particular book is a biography or a work of history. Throw in the state of the author’s soul and deliberations could drag on till the last trumpet sounds.
But Matt Malone, editor-in-chief of America, tells Charles, “We’re not requiring that this person be of exemplary moral character… There are no strict doctrinal limits. The committee, in evaluating the person’s performance, will give greater weight to a person whose works are inspired by the Catholic tradition or that examines the intersection of art and the Catholic faith. But it’s not a requirement that a person be a baptized Roman Catholic.” He also says that part of the motivation for the prize is to introduce new voices: “The idea behind this prize is that you may not have heard of somebody before they win the Hunt, but once they do, you’re going to hear from them for the rest of their lives.” Which may explain the upper age limit imposed on submissions.
The Hunt Prize will be awarded next year at a ceremony at Yale, with the winner delivering a lecture that will be printed in America.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.