Literary awards are important in today’s world of books. They have been shaping readers’ choices for decades. There is a need for the reader to make a choice in the first place and knowing that a book has won an author award helps them do so. Not only is it physically impossible for an individual to read all the literature available, it is also highly unlikely that a selection will be made without external guidance. Top Author Awards provide such guidance and determine what should be read. Hence, one finds that the copies start flying off the bookshelves as soon as the book wins an award.
Indian literature awards are even more significant for new authors. The literature awards in India are not just about the prize money but a validation of their work. A new writer faces self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Having your work assessed by independent, impartial judges and considered worthy makes the new writer’s struggle more worthwhile.
While there are a few notable international literary awards like the Man Booker or the Pulitzer or the Costa or the Neustadt, which Indians have won in the past, several Indian and South Asian Prizes for Literature are getting well-known in literary circles. Here is a list of literary awards in India
The Top Author Awards in India are:
The Jnanpith Award was started by Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain of the Times of India group in 1961. The Jnanpith Award is the highest literary award in India given to Indian authors by the Indian Government. The writer has to be an Indian citizen, writing in a language recognised by the Indian constitution. The writer receives a cash prize of Rs 11 Lakh and a statue of Goddess Saraswati. The nominations for the India’s highest honour in the field of literature can be received from literary experts, teachers, critics, universities and literary associations. A committee of 3 scholars evaluates the nominations and sends a final list to the Selection Committee consisting of seven to eleven members. The 55th and latest recipient of India’s highest honour in the field of literature is Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri for his work in Malayalam, and this award was announced in 2019. The Jnanpith award 2021 winner was Damodar Mauzo.
Sahitya Akademi Award was started in 1954, this award is given every year to Indian writers who have written in any of the 24 languages recognised by the Sahitya Akademi in the past five years, not including the year before the year of the announcement of the award. Along with a plaque, the writer is awarded Rs. 1 lakh. Two experts prepare the ground list for each language. The experts are chosen by the President of the Akademi from a list of 5. Each Language Advisory board member will recommend two books from the ground list and the list of recommended books is sent to 10 referees. Each referee can recommend two books. The list of books recommended by the referees is then sent to a 3-member Sahitya Akademi Award jury which selects the winner. The awards are announced by March of the next year. Publishers and authors cannot submit entries.
For the year 2020, 20 Sahitya Akademi Award winners have been announced. Prominent among them is Mr M. Veerappa Moily for Kannada and Ms Arundhati Subramaniam for English.
Yuva Puraskar was established in 2011, the Yuva Puraskar is an award given by the Sahitya Akademi to the first book or the best book of an author to promote writing amongst youngsters. The awardee must be under 35 years as of Jan 1st of the year of the award and the work should be in one of the 24 languages recognised by the Akademi. The award includes a cash prize of Rs 50,000 and a copper plaque. 2020 Yuva Puraskar winners include Yashica Dutt and Ankit Narwal in English and Hindi respectively.
Entries are sought from authors and publishers through advertisements and the list of eligible books is sent to members of the Language Advisory Board each of whom can recommend 2 books. These recommendations are then sent to 10 referees and each is requested to select 2 books. The Yuva Puraskar list is then sent to a three-member jury which selects a book for the award.
The K.K. Birla Foundation instituted the Saraswati Samman award in 1991. This is a private award and includes a cash award of Rs. 15 lakhs. The Indian literary award Saraswati Samman is given annually for outstanding contributions to authors for their work in the 22 Indian languages recognised by the Constitution and does not include English. Candidates are selected from literary works published in the previous ten years by a panel that consists of scholars and former award winners. It considers work published in the last one year and in the last ten years too. The latest Saraswati Samman awardee in 2020 is Sharankumar Limbale for his Marathi novel Sanatan. The first book award India was given to Harivansh Rai Bachchan in 1991.
The national bookstore chain Crossword established the Crossword Book Award. This was done to give a flip to Indian writers writing in English. After a year of starting the award for English writers, Indian work that has been translated into English was also included. The Crossword Book Award has now entered its 18th year, the award has evolved into four jury awards and seven popular awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Management Book of the Year. Nominations for the award for English writers are on the basis of sales tracked by Crossword and the final selection is made based on an online poll and an offline poll conducted in Crossword stores.
In 2020, debutante Madhuri Vijay won the Crossword Book Award for Fiction (Jury) for her book on Kashmir ‘The Far Field’, whereas Twinkle Khanna won the Fiction Award (Popular) for her book ‘Pyjamas are Forgiving’.
Tata Literature Live! is a well-known Literature festival that takes place in Mumbai every year. It is a four-day celebration of literature. It also celebrates literature with awards in seven different categories. The categories are the Best Business Book Award, Big Little Book Award (for children’s book), First Book Award, and the Book of the Year Award. Language is no bar for winning this award. Six books are nominated for the longlist which is subsequently pruned to four books in the shortlist. A four-member jury selects the Tata Literature Live! Award-winning book.
In 2020, Ruskin Bond won the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to literature. Other winners included Deepa Anappara for ‘Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line’ (First Book Award, fiction), Annie Zaidi for ‘Prelude to a Riot’ (Book of the Year – Fiction), Taran N Khan for ‘Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul(First Book Award, non-fiction) and TM Krishna for Sebastian & Sons: A Brief History of Mrdangam Makers (Book of the Year, non-fiction).
The JCB Prize for Literature includes a Rs 25-lakh award given each year to an outstanding work of fiction by an Indian author. The Prize aims to celebrate Indian writing and help readers worldwide discover the very best of contemporary Indian literature. It makes significant awards also to translators, without whose work, no reader can appreciate the scale and diversity of literature written in over twenty languages. The winning author of the JCB Prize for Literature receives Rs 25 lakh; if the winning work is a translation, an additional Rs 10 lakh is awarded to the translator.
Each year’s jury is selected by the Literary Director of the prize in consultation with the JCB Literature Foundation. The long list of 10 books, the shortlist of 5 books, and the jury selects the winner. Entries open to publishers in March and each publisher can recommend two books in English and two books translated into English. Publishers can complete the process at http://thejcbprize.org/publisher/entries
S Hareesh won the 2020 Prize for his Malayalam novel, Moustache. The translator of the book Jayasree Kalathil won the translator’s award.
The DSC Group instituted the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2010. To be eligible for the prize, the original novel should be either written in English or translated into English, with a minimum of 25,000 words. The author can reside in any country as long as the novel is based on themes from South Asian culture, politics, history, or the people. The book should have been published in the year preceding the year of the award and comes with a cash reward of US$ 25,000. The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is administered and supervised by a seven-member Steering Committee.
Amitabh Bagchi won the book awards India for 2019 for his novel ‘Half the Night is Gone.’
Hindu Literary Prize was set instituted in 2010 by The Hindu Literary Review, an offshoot of The Hindu. The prize is given to an Indian citizen for the best literary fiction in English. The award is given to novels and short stories, both eligible, but the award aims to select the best work in adult literature, disbarring children or young adult fiction. Publishers are invited to send in entries — full-length novels or short story collections by one author — in May-June every year. A distinguished panel of judges comprising writers, academicians and critics decide the shortlist and the final winner.
The 2019 winners of the Hindu Literary Prize include Mirza Waheed for ‘Tell Her Everything’ and Shantanu Das for ‘India, Empire and First War Culture.’
Times of India and JK Papers joined hands to celebrate women authors who have added value and creativity to the literary space. Authors can self-nominate themselves and publishers, friends, family, etc. can also submit nominations for AutHer Awards. A team-first short-lists the entries and the final selection is made by a jury.
The AutHer Awards 2021 were bagged by Jahnavi Barua for her fiction book ‘Undertow’ and by Shylashri Shankar for her non-fiction book ‘Turmeric Nation.’
The FICCI Publishing Awards were instituted in 2017 to reward the talent, initiative, entrepreneurial zeal and untiring efforts of publishers and authors.
Read interviews of Indian authors who have won some of the most prestigious author awards in India and abroad.
- Chitra Divakaruni: Won the Best American Short Stories, The O’Henry Prize Stories, and two Pushcart Prize Anthologies
- S.B. Divya: Won the Hugo Award
- Satyabrata Rout: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award
- Jagran Nielsen award was given to Sirri published by Zorba Books, at JKLF
We cannot end this post without mentioning the recent win of the International Booker Prize for translated work by an Indian, Geetanjali Shree along with Daisy, the translator of the book, Ret ki Samadhi.
Our focus in this blog is to create awareness amongst writers about the top author awards in India.
Literature awards in India not only add to the prestige of the book and the author but adds marketing value to the book. For these reasons alone it is worth focusing for an author on receiving an award from a limited list of literature awards in India, if possible.