You are here

The gender agenda

The gender agenda

Every year, at about this time, a hoary old argument raises its head. It is prompted by the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize and then the Women's Prize). The question is whether women need their own literary prize. This year's chair of judges, Shami Chakrabarti, thinks they still do: ‘I don’t think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s time to end a women’s prize.’ Featured on this year's Bailey's Prize shortlist are Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Rachel Cusk and Rachel Seiffert – all Man Booker short- and longlistees – as well as the venerable Anne Tyler. Ali Smith was a 2014 Man Booker shortlistee and has won, among others, the Costa Prize and the Goldsmith's Prize for How to be Both.

Speakng of successful women many congratulations to the chair of this year's Man Booker International Prize, Dame Marina Warner, who has just been awarded Norway's prestigious Holberg Prize for ‘scholars who have made outstanding contributions to research in the arts and humanities, social science, law or theology’. The prize citation notes that ‘Warner is a polymathic literary scholar and critic whose work unsettles the boundaries between disciplines and cultures. Her scholarship represents a sustained inquiry into the ways in which myths, narratives, images, objects and symbols permeate the history of the human imagination. It breaks down distinctions between academic knowledge and popular ways of knowing.’ Dame Marina will travel to Bergen in June to collect her whopping $735,000 prize. She has work to do first though: the list of finalists for the Man Booker International is announced shortly, on 24 March, and the winner is named on 19 May.

The Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature & Arts runs in London for much of May with the main weekend being based at King's College from the 28th to the 31st. It promises an impressive array, not just Antipodean of writers, but of British talent with a fondness for Down Under too. Among those appearing are a cluster of Man Booker alumni, including former winners Peter Carey, Howard Jacobson and DBC Pierre. For a full roster of the who, what and where's look here.

Edmund Wee, the Singaporean founder Epigram Books, has come up with an interesting approach to attract the most talented new writers. He is offering a $20,000 prize to the best unpublished novel in English submitted to his firm. As he points out: ‘We spend about $1 million a year publishing up to 50 books, so it's going to cost me $20,000 anyway to do a book. If we get a good book, it'll be worth it in the long run.’ His aim, he says, is to find novelists worthy of entering for the Man Booker.

Ali Smith CBE