Deborah Cohen

Deborah Cohen teaches history at Northwestern University. Her most recent book is Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain."

Recent Articles

Have Literary Prizes Lost Their Meaning? (Have They Ever Had Any?)

Neither chapel nor cricket shows any meaningful sign of resurgence, but prize-giving—that other great hallmark of English boarding-school life—has in the past few decades zipped across the globe. As James English notes in his The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value , the number of literary awards has more than doubled in the United Kingdom since 1988 and tripled in the United States between 1976 and 2000. More than 1,100 honors are distributed to American writers each year. Not only have prizes proliferated; the prestigious ones have grown more important as the midrange book market drops away. Our National Book Awards or Britain’s Man Booker might not make a best-seller. But they can transform a book that’s sold sluggishly into a popular and financial success. As in the famous sausage-making paradigm, we are generally better off not knowing what went into the manufacture of a literary prize. But there is one major...