It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least by those on this field of reality, that the world of literature is one that heavily favours men. The vast majority of literary prizes, from the Pulitzer to the National Book Award, go to male writers, usually straight, middle class and white. In 1996, a group of writers and other individuals, including Kate Mosse, decided to level the playing field a little and founded the Women’s Prize for Fiction (originally sponsored by Orange, a role that has since been taken over by Baileys), much to the outrage of many, mostly men. While many continue to attest that having a women only prize for fiction is sexist (I’m not laughing), the award continues to flourish and has been rewarded to up and comers and household names alike. Previous winners include Zadie Smith, Téa Obreht, Barbara Kingsolver and the incumbent, AM Homes.
Today, the longlist of 20 books, chosen by the jury including Mary Beard, Denise Mina and Caitlin Moran, was announced, and the selection is surprisingly diverse in terms of genre, geography, race and style. Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries appears fresh from its Man Booker Prize win, along with fellow shortlister The Lowlands (expected to see that one as a potential Pulitzer Prize winner, along with Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers). Many have begun to question the need for such a prize as women have begun to appear with increasing frequency on other literary awards shortlists, such as the Man Booker and the Costa Book Awards, but personally, I see no reason to do away with a women’s prize, especially since the scales are still tilted so far in the favour of men, and if the Baileys Prize brings much needed recognition to a few lesser known novels then it’s earned its keep.