In an essay at the Harvard Crimson, Sanders Bernstein opines that literary awards should be reserved for living authors. His essay was sparked by the recent posthumous bestowal of the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction on Roberto Bolaño's 2666. Bernstein's primary argument is that book prizes are "supposed to encourage further production of literature," which cannot be accomplished by dead authors. If the posthumously awarded prize happens to carry a monetary award, that award is squandered on the dead author's family rather than awarded to a living author who might use the funds to continue producing worthy literature. Bernstein asks: "How does this serve to promote the arts? ... How does it serve to inspire new creative works?" Bernstein concludes that "in the cash-strapped world of letters, it is more important than ever that the moneys within are channeled to the warm bodies that can produce the next White Whale and not to skeletons that will merely rest in the muck."
In response to Bernstein's essay, the Literary Saloon says this is "the kind of argument that drives us nuts." Their primary point: "The product should be rewarded, not the producer (hence also our annoyance with those headlines that read, e.g. 'Bolaño wins NBCC Prize'; Bolaño did not win the NBCC fiction prize, 2666 did)."
Although I sympathize with Literary Saloon's ideals, I also understand the practicalities raised by Bernstein. There's not much prize money and publicity to go around, so doesn't it make sense to use those resources in the way most likely to support future production of great literature?