Sunday, 19 June 2016

Discussion: The Need for Women's Literary Prizes

Hello lovely bookish people!

This is a post that I've wanted to write for ages, but never actually got around to doing it. With the recent announcement of 2016's winner of the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction though, now seems the perfect time to be discussing such a topic.

In the UK, the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction is amongst the most prestigious literary prizes. It has been awarded under various names annually since 1996, to a female author of any nationality for a full-length novel written in English and published in the UK. It's an award inspired by the Booker prize, which in 1991 failed to shortlist a book written by a woman, despite the majority of books that year being published by a woman. Winners include Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ali Smith, and most recently Lisa McInerny. The names of Donna Tartt, Hanya Yangihara, Hilary Mantel, and Margaret Atwood all lie amongst the names of previous nominees.

But here's the question many ask around the time the Baileys Prize announces its longlist/shortlist/winner: why, in 2016, do we still have to have a literary prize aimed only at women?

Some argue that these prizes promote the idea that these works are good - for a woman. Or, that these books are only for women (an idea they say is supported by the Baileys sponsor). Even authors that have won it argue against it, like Lionel Shriver, who said that this "special treatment" of women is "problematic", and although she doesn't want to seem ungrateful, it means far less to her to have won the Baileys Prize than it would have if she had won the Booker.

Whilst that may be true, there's a crucial point missing here: the Baileys Prize exists to promote fiction written by women because, even in 2016, women are shockingly underrepresented in publishing. What it isn't doing, is telling men that this literature is off-limits to them, or telling the author's that their works are surprisingly good considering they were written by women. It's a celebration of the woman writer. It's making her work known in the hope that a wider audience picks up the book and enjoys it. It's telling young, impressionable, aspiring authors that their works can be celebrated too.

For the moment, women's literary prizes are necessary. I hope that there is a day in the not-too-distant future where they are not, a day where women represent half of the publishing industry in terms of board members and best-selling authors, but we are not there yet. The truth is, without these literary prizes, women's fiction just wouldn't get the recognition or wider audience it deserves. So yes, in 2016, we still need such prizes.

If you want to read more on the topic, here are some articles for you to check out:
Do you agree? Let me know in the comments!
Love to you all, 
Zoe