Here’s a fact that I wasn’t aware of until this week: The Orange prize for fiction is a women’s only prize. I suppose I’ve never really followed these things before because I didn’t know exactly what they were, or where to follow them.
Launched in 1996, the prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world. The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’, created by the artist Grizel Niven.
As I say, I’ve never followed book award lists in the past, though I knew of some prestigious ones such as “Man Booker” and “Hugo”, I didn’t even know what ‘shortlisted’ meant let alone know who was on those lists, I just knew that if a book’s cover mentioned an award at all, they were probably pretty good. However, the people behind the Orange prize claim that women’s fiction is under-represented and under-appreciated, which is a damn shame when there are some truly phenomenal female authors out there. It would be nice to be able to honestly say that this isn’t the case these days but then you hear things like the following, belittling the achievements of women as being less than a man’s.
…even more shocking were last week’s comments by Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul. “Women writers are different,” he said in an interview printed in The Evening Standard, “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
He thinks this is due to women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world.” And he rubbished the work of his former editor Diana Athill, the respected author of Somewhere Towards the End, as “feminine tosh”.
I would like to be able to say that the Orange prize for fiction is no longer necessary, that it could quite easily become a gender neutral prize (and looking at the winners of the Man Booker prize in the past 10 years does indicate that we’re getting there), but when comments like those of VS Naipaul are still floating around, I’d say it’s nice to have such a prestigious and solid appreciation for women’s fiction out there. And all of the ladies on the short-list this year deserve to be there by the looks of it (I haven’t read them yet myself, but they all sound like wonderful reads and I’ve heard great things about them):
- Emma Donoghue – Room
- Aminatta Forna – The Memory of Love
- Emma Henderson – Grace Williams Says it Loud
- Nicole Krauss – Great House
- Téa Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife
- Kathleen Winter – Annabel
Incase you are interested, it was announced today that Tea Obreht won the prize this year for her debut novel The Tiger’s Wife. At 25 years old, she is the youngest to win this award. Huge congratulations to her.