USA Women’s Fiction Prize
Amelia Gregory discusses The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, America’s first literary award for women and non-binary writers.
It has recently been announced that The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction will become North America’s first award for female and non-binary writers. The award will be launching in 2022 and offers a prize worth $150000 (CAD). The award acts as an equivalent to the UK’s Women’s Prize for Fiction which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The creation of The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction has received a lot of support since the announcement, however, comparing it to the Women’s Prize brings to question why it has taken so long? More troubling still, is the fact that 25 years on gendered awards are still necessary? This perhaps proves that gender inequality in the world of writers remains prominent today.
“It was found in 2018 that on average between 2002-2012 books written by female authors were priced 45% lower than that of men.”
The large sum of prize money makes the award stand out in comparison to other awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize for which Carol Shields was awarded $3000 in 1995, although the current award is worth $15000. Hopefully an award strictly dedicated to non-binary and women writers with such a large financial reward will mean that the winners will be recognised for their talent as the financial backing may make critics consider the award more reputable. It is also extremely important to demonstrate that it is worthwhile pouring such financial backing into the work of women and nonbinary writers, as it was found in 2018 that on average between 2002-2012 books written by female authors were priced 45% lower than that of men.
Similarly, female authors are far less likely to win literary awards than men, and non-binary authors even less. The Women’s Prize for Fiction was created in 1996 following the upset at the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist which had not featured any female authors, despite the fact that 60% of the books published the year before had been written by women. It only takes a few looks on some of the biggest literary awards’ websites to see that this issue, although it has improved, is still there. The Nobel Prize for Literature, arguably the most prominent literary award available, boasts online that it has been awarded 112 times to 116 individuals, however, a quick glance at their facts and figures section shows that only 15 of these individuals were women. Slightly more encouragingly 9 of these have been since 1991, the year of the male-only Booker Prize shortlist, suggesting that the award is becoming more inclusive.
“Ultimately, I hope that there comes a day when gendered awards are not deemed necessary and writers of any gender identity are competing for esteemed awards on an equal footing.”
Ultimately, I hope that there comes a day when gendered awards are not deemed necessary and writers of any gender identity are competing for esteemed awards on an equal footing. However, that day has not yet come, and very dishearteningly it appears to be a while off. This is exactly why these awards are so important, for with every writer that gets recognised by such awards, we are able to celebrate the sheer talent at hand as well as promoting these authors to readers who may not have otherwise come across their work. I also think it is important that we have these awards as they highlight the adversity still faced by many writers in modern society, and celebrates their work for what it is, in spite of these difficulties. The systematic gender inequality in literature needs to be addressed, and these awards serve as a positive and celebratory way to help dismantle these structures.