As Ted Turner puts it, you can’t live a better future unless you can imagine one. So this year he invented the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship for upbeat futuristic fiction. Last week the prize went to Daniel Quinn, a 55- year-old free-lance writer from Austin, Tex., for his environmentally conscious novel, Ishmael. ”It’s a series of philosophical asides like Plato’s dialogues,” says Ray Bradbury, one of the contest judges, ”only it’s between a man and an intellectual gorilla.” The other judges were writers William Styron, Carlos Fuentes, Nadine Gordimer, Peter Matthiessen, Wallace Stegner, Rodney Hall, and Ballantine Books founders Betty and Ian Ballantine.
But Styron is furious because he wanted to avoid honoring a single book with so much money (three runners-up got $50,000 each). Claiming to represent several judges, he says, ”We feel totally betrayed. We thought it was the most worthy of some rather lightweight entries, but we wanted to avoid giving it this imprimatur of a half-million dollars. We didn’t succeed, because Turner wanted a big splash.”
”As usual, Styron is misinformed,” says Michael Reagan, vice president and publisher of Turner Publishing. ”He’s been difficult from the beginning. We didn’t betray anybody. The prize is not just for this one book — it’s for an individual of extraordinary promise.” He adds, ”As far as I know, (Styron) didn’t give his check back.” The judges earned $10,000 apiece.
Bradbury has this to say about Styron’s complaint: ”Oh, nonsense! He’s being very literary — he thinks he’s William Styron, and that’s a big mistake. I don’t go around thinking I’m Ray Bradbury all the time.” But Bradbury is willing to throw his weight around. ”If ‘Kitty Litter Kelley’ can get millions for a crappy book (Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography), how about $500,000 for a nice book? People always say to me, ‘Ray, predict the future!’ I predict people will love the book.” Turner and Bantam Books will publish the hardcover edition of Quinn’s Ishmael next January.