2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Let’s take a look at the amazing past winners and why the prize is needed more than ever.
Best-selling author Kate Mosse set up the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 1995 to celebrate the best full-length fiction by women across the world. It was a direct response to the male-dominated literary prize scene that overlooked the achievements and narratives of women writers. The Man Booker Prize, in particular, epitomised the issue – its early 1990s longlists contained no women at all.
The four-strong Women’s Prize Committee – Mosse, co-founder and literary agent Jane Gregory, publisher Susan Sandon and Prize Director Harriet Hastings – believed the exclusion of women from literary praise was unacceptable and set out to celebrate female voices with an award scheme of their own.
Over two decades later, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is still going strong and annually showcases some of the most exciting, innovative and refreshing voices in fiction.
Before this year’s winner is unveiled on 9 September, readers are being challenged to revisit the previous 24 winners and explore the power and diversity of their stories. There are loads of resources right here to help you get to know the authors and guide you through the books.
Do we still need it? Well, yeah.
You’d think a quarter of a century would be long enough to re-balance the publishing industry, right? Wrong!
Female authors frequently top the bestseller lists but are still poorly represented at the top echelons of literary awards. The Man Booker Prize is catching up, though – in the last decade, four out of the ten prizes have gone to women (2019 Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, 2018 Milkman by Anna Burns, 2013 The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, 2012 Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel) and its annual shortlists are much more balanced.
However, getting published in the first place continues to be a challenge for women. In 2018, author Kamila Shamsie called for a Year of Publishing Women to redress the imbalance of commissioned authors. Also infuriated by the male-centric Man Booker Prize, Shamsie campaigned for no new titles by men to be published that year to try to level the playing field with more female-penned stories. The challenge wasn’t taken up by the industry – with only independent publisher And Other Stories committing to a women-only catalogue – but publishers such as Bluemoose are revisiting the issue in 2020.
So, while women writers are loved and purchased/borrowed by readers, they face more commissioning hurdles than men and get less prestigious recognition than their male counterparts. To my mind, the Women’s Prize for Fiction’s agenda certainly remains relevant in this environment.
Book club takes up the challenge
We’re looking at identity and how it’s represented in these three corkers:
Our task is to read and review each book by September so look out for our thoughts on social media and the Reading Groups for Everyone website.
The 2020 shortlist
This year’s prize is just as exciting as the previous 24 years.
The six-strong shortlist contains established writers and new authors, historical fiction and unique stories – it’s a great summer reading list. Check out my guide to the shortlist over at Luxe magazine.
Don’t forget to add 9 September to your diary to find out who takes home the 25th Women’s Prize for Fiction.