A literary prize reserved for women

“In the United Kingdom, the Orange Prize is a literary prize like no other, since it has rewarded each year, for ten years, a novel written in English by a woman, whatever her nationality”, explains The Independent. This year, the prize, endowed with 30,000 books, was awarded to an American author based in London and a subscriber to esteemed success for twenty years. In his novel We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver tells the story of a mother who tries to analyze the mistakes she may have made in raising her 15-year-old son, who has just massacred students in an American high school.

Since its creation, the controversy surrounding this award has raged. The founders have been called sexist and paternalistic, and the award itself incongruous and unnecessary. “Are women second-class writers for us to come up with the idea for this all-female award? Besides, doesn’t it crown novels of lower quality than those selected for the other prizes? Isn’t this positive discrimination? asks the Wall Street Journal Europe.

In an editorial published by the daily, Lionel Shriver herself tries to unravel the reasons that led to the creation of the Orange Prize. For her, the figures are eloquent and perfectly justify her existence: the most famous literary prize in the United Kingdom, the Booker Prize, has crowned since its creation eleven women and thirty-six men; the second, the Whitbread, rewarded eight women out of thirty-one winners. In the United States, the difference is even greater: the National Book Award singled out eighteen women out of fifty-one winners. The same goes for the Pulitzer Prize: fourteen women in fifty-one years of existence. “We are therefore entitled to wonder if women only write novels without interest”, wonders the WSJ. To this Lionel Shriver responds in the negative. She has in fact noted that, if the Orange Prize locks women into a ghetto, the high quality of the winners of past years has ended up reducing the critics to silence. And in the end “women are not losers”.

Curiously, Lionel Shriver chose, when he entered writing, to hide under a male first name. “It was at the age of fifteen that Margaret Ann became Lionel”, notes The Independent. “I prepared for victory as if I were a man”, she says in the Guardian. Preparing for victory as if you were a man means mentally convincing yourself that you can win, slipping into the shoes of a winner by preparing a speech of thanks, forgetting all complicity and considering other novelists as competitors, without exchanging, as women do, neither invitations, nor telephone numbers, nor e-mails. “Women are particularly bad when it comes to managing their own ambition,” says Lionel.

The 2005 winner reminds us that women are the main buyers of books and that it is thanks to them that the publishing world in the United Kingdom is kept afloat. Many of the books that women buy are actually written by women. So, to relaunch male reading, why not an exclusively male prize?

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A literary prize reserved for women