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NULab Faculty Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr Featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books’ “Best of 2023”

NULab faculty Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr have been recognized in the Los Angeles Review of Books‘s recently released “Best of 2023” list. There are ten works highlighted in total; LARB describes the list as comprising “all the pieces our readers loved, read, and reread all year long.” Specifically, LARB recognizes Young’s and Spahr’s series of essays, “On Poets and Prizes“, based on their research with Claire Grossman, “The Index of Major Literary Prizes in the US“.

Spahr, Young, and Grossman collected data on every literary prize worth $10,000 or more since 1918, recording the winners, their gender and race, their degrees, and the serving judges. They found that writers “with an elite degree (Ivy League, Stanford, University of Chicago) are nine times more likely to win than those without one. And more specifically, those who attended Harvard are 17 times more likely to win.” Half of the prize-winners had MFAs from “[University of] Iowa, Columbia, NYU, or UC Irvine.” Iowa’s alumni, specifically, “are 49 times more likely to win compared to writers who earned their MFA at any other program since 2000.” Similarly, the winning titles were adopted by a limited selection of publishers, including: imprints of Penguin Random House; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (an imprint of Macmillan); Copper Canyon; Garywolf; and HarperCollins.

Young, Grossman, and Spahr found that prize winners throughout the 20th century were dominantly white; however, “from 2000 to 2018, 33 percent of prizewinners identified as other than white, coming close to the 36 percent of the population who did in the 2010 census.” Yet, Black writers who won prizes were much more likely than white writers to hold Ivy League degrees and MFAs, demonstrating that nonwhite winners needed more elite credentials than white winners.

In short, the data collected by Spahr, Young, and Grossman demonstrates that “the game is rigged.” Their data is available open-access via the Post45 Data Collective, so that other researchers can see how they “came to their conclusions, can build on them, and can thus extend our understanding of who gets to succeed as a writer.”

You can read the full story, written by Dan Sinykin, here.

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