This week Michael Fried is giving the annual Alexander Lectures at University College. His topic is “Form and Pressure: Four Artists of Today.”
If you’d like to read some of his art criticism, Laidlaw Library has just purchased a collection of his essays and reviews, Art and Objecthood.
I recently read the English translation of Girls of Riyadh, written by Rajaa Alsanea at the age of 23. In structure and theme I found it reminiscent of two American novels: Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan and The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. All three books are about a group of women friends and their romantic, professional, and family lives. But the Saudia Arabian city of Riyadh makes for a very different, and fascinating, social context for the young women’s stories. The author, now 25, is a dentist who’s studying endodontics in Chicago and plans to return to practise in Saudia Arabia once she graduates. (And to continue writing, I hope!)
Following Monday’s announcement of this year’s Orange Prize longlist, there have been lots of articles in the British press about why novelists A.S. Byatt and Tim Lott, among others, believe this award for women novelists writing in English is “sexist” and “unnecessary.” Lott claimed that nowadays women, far from being overlooked by established literary prizes such as the Booker, are in fact “predominant.”
I was intrigued: were women actually winning the established literary prizes more often than men, as he seemed to imply? The answer is no. By my count, 34% of all Booker winners (since the prize began in 1969) have been women. But perhaps women have become predominant in recent years? Again, no: women have won the Man Booker Prize 3 out of the last 10 times.
Out of curiosity, I also looked up a few other major literary prizes:
- Women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature about 10% of the time since the prize began in 1901; in the past ten years, women have won twice (20%).
- By my count women have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 27% of the time since it began in 1948; in the past ten years three women have won (30%).
- What about the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize? 19% of the winners of the Best Book have been women since it began in 1987, and two women have won in the past ten years (20%).
- As for our own Giller Prize, so far a third of the winners have been women.
Perhaps some day the Orange Prize will be unnecessary, but in the meantime I welcome its recognition and celebration of women novelists.
Two Canadian novels are in the running for the Orange Prize. The “longlist,” announced yesterday, includes Nancy Huston’s Fault Lines and Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals.
Looking over the list of past winners, I see that Canadian novels have won the prize twice in its twelve-year history: Fugitive Pieces won in 1997, and Larry’s Party won in 1998.
Judith Thompson’s play Palace of the End, about the war in Iraq, has won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Thompson is the first Canadian to win this annual award for the best play written in English by a woman.
The regional winners for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize have been announced; for Canada and the Caribbean, the Best Book is Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. For an interesting look at the real-life document which inspired the novel (a ledger listing Black Loyalists who sailed from New York to Nova Scotia in 1783), check out Lawrence Hill’s article in The Beaver.
Hill’s novel is now in the running to be the overall Commonwealth winner — it’s up against books from Nigeria, India, and Australia:
- The Hangman’s Game by Karen King-Aribisala
- Animal’s People by Indra Sinha
- The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll
(Laidlaw Library already has Animal’s People, and I’ve just ordered the other two contenders.)
The Best First Book prize for Canada and the Caribbean was won by The End of the Alphabet, CS Richardson’s novel about a man who finds out he only has a month to live and decides “to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar.”
Today I posted a list of books we’ve added to the Laidlaw collection over the past two months. Here are a few titles which might intrigue you: