In Praise of the Baileys Prize on International Women’s Day
Firstly, happy International Women’s Day! Secondly, before you ask, International Men’s Day in on the 19th of November.
Today is also the day when the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announce their longlist, which this year comprises of sixteen titles rather than the usual twenty. This is apparently due to the prize organisers deciding that more attention for fewer books would be better, despite the judges arguing for the full twenty titles as the calibre of books by women this past year has been outstanding.
There have been some surprises as several titles that were considered guaranteed to be on the list were excluded, such as Autumn by Ali Smith (if you’ve read this, I’m sure you’ll understand my outrage), Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Swing Time by Zadie Smith, and The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (it’s no secret how much I adore this book).
However, some truly excellent titles have been nominated, including The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (my favourite read of the year so far, a masterpiece), The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, and books by stalwarts Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx and Rose Tremain. On the more literary side of things is First Love by Gwendoline Riley and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. The only title I take umbridge with is Little Deaths by Emma Flint, a book that everyone else seems to love, but I hated. There are also titles I haven’t heard of and am excited to read.
The cliché is true, that these women stand on the shoulders of all of the women writers who have come before them. The literary landscape today looks very different to what it was even twenty, thirty years ago; access and visibility have improved, and there are more books written by women than ever. However there is still more to be done, and diversity and awareness of intersectionality are the next challenges for the publishing industry.
Despite my chagrin that there still needs to be specific prizes and competitions that highlight books that aren’t written by the straight, white males who have long dominated the book industry, I delight in the celebration of the books on this list. As well as the Baileys, there is the Green Carnation Prize which celebrates books by LGBTQ+ writers and the Jhalak Prize, that applauds books by UK BAME authors, both of which give a publicity boost to often over-looked books.
The Women’s Prize is looking for a new sponsor, as Baileys have announced an end to their sponsorship. One of the best ways to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day is to go and buy, read and support some of these excellent titles by women (preferably from an independent book shop), to show that we want this representation to continue, and that books by women are lucrative in a busy market.