On Friday, the Advocate posted Lethe Press owner Steve Berman's slap at the Lambda Literary Awards, calling them a "shambles" and concluding, "I fear the Lammys have become all pomp and lip-synching, like a bad drag show under poor lighting." Berman criticizes the award categories, the judging process, the fees, and the ceremony. I've been a Lammy judge three times (for nonfiction, debut fiction, gay fiction) and welcome a forceful call for improvements, yet I found some of Berman's specifics off the mark. He is flat out wrong in implying former awards coordinator Richard Labonte had influence over the categories in which Richard's anthologies were nominated, because Richard did not coordinate those categories. His summary of friends' judging was the opposite of my experience. For another perspective, my bracketed comments below speak only to my categories:
"Three of my friends broke their silence regarding their experiences as Lammy judges last year. Each told me disturbing accounts. No overall rules for the judges in every category to follow [Richard gave us criteria]. Not every judge had to read every nominated book [we did] — or even all five finalists [we did]. So publishers wasted time and money sending in books that ended up being ignored. [Not wasted] Judges treated each other with petulance and no one from the foundation enforced any common sense or responsibility [never in three years]. Now, maybe not every category had such problems [true], but what I heard coupled with the complete lack of transparency from the foundation has left me with the impression that the Lammys are a shambles. Their original focus, to highlight good queer literature, has been lost to the art of fund-raising [Possibly. The $200 ticket for the reception, ceremony, and "VIP" after party is $200 more than the free ceremony and free reception at the Publishing Triangle Awards.] The cost of submitting titles goes up and up. The awards event now puts more emphasis on special guests and late-night parties than on the literature and authors it’s advertised as celebrating."
Certainly, I agree with Berman that the Lammys need to update their categories. I'd say add awards for humor, graphic books, and photography, none of which gets a fair shake when lumped in other groups. He suggests the LLF should reinstate the category for books about aids but I think those titles can compete on equal footing in existing categories.
Today, Lambda responded with a long letter from exec director Tony Valenzuela, which touts the LLF's essential role in lgbt publishing, confirms the universal guidelines given to judges, addresses some of Berman's other issues, and includes this paragraph:
"Another important change for the good of the Foundation—and the community—is the awards ceremony is now covered by the media more widely than ever before, bringing greater visibility to LGBT literature both within and beyond the LGBT community. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and The Washington Post have all reported on the ceremony. We’re particularly grateful to the honorees and presenters who helped us attract media attention, including Armistead Maupin, Olympia Dukakis, Kate Millet, Larry Kramer, Terrance McNally, Edward Albee, Kate Clinton, Ally Sheedy, Ted Allen, Eileen Myles, Stefani Powers, Wally Lamb, Frank Bruni, Emma Donoghue, and Jacqueline Woodson, among many others."
Stefani Powers? Ally Sheedy? It's unclear if this type of increased media attention is creating visibility for Lambda or for the winning books. One aspect no one seems to talk about is the Lammys' impact on sales. Author recognition is always meaningful but it would also help to know which titles among last year's 23 winners saw breakout sales leaps after their victories.