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.