The Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, is one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary prizes. It is awarded annually to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom in the preceding year, according to the organisation’s website.
The prize, which was founded in 1996, was created to celebrate originality, accessibility and excellence in writing by women and to connect world-class writers with readers everywhere. In fact, the “inspiration” for the Baileys Prize was the Booker Prize of 1991, when none of the six shortlisted books was by a woman, despite some 60% of novels published that year being by female authors. This reality prompted female authors, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians and journalists to take action.
The “inspiration” for the Baileys Prize was the Booker Prize of 1991, when none of the six shortlisted books was by a woman.
The winner of the prize receives £30 000 and “Bessie”, a bronze sculpture created by artist Grizel Niven. This year both will be awarded on 5 June at an awards ceremony in central London.
The 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was selected by a stellar judging panel chaired by Professor Kate Williams, who is an author, historian and professor of history. On the panel is Arifa Akbar, journalist and critic; Dolly Alderton, columnist, broadcaster and author; Leyla Hussein, campaigner and psychotherapist, and digital entrepreneur Sarah Wood.
“The works of female writers continue to move, challenge and entertain us – as well as open up new perspectives onto our world. At this point in history, the need for different kinds of voices is more pressing than ever, and I’m looking forward to discussing this year’s nominated books with my fellow judges,” Prof Williams is quoted as saying on the Women’s Prize website when the process began.
“At this point in history, the need for different kinds of voices is more pressing than ever.” – Prof Kate Williams
Upon releasing the longlist, she said, “I am thrilled to share this longlist – 16 incredible books by a diverse group of women, from the UK and countries across the world, all brilliant stories that sweep you into another world. Each of them has been a privilege to read, and they have taken us into places a million miles from each other, exploring the lives of women and men in so many different but utterly compelling ways.”
The longlist of authors is as follows:
- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
- Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
- The Pisces by Melissa Broder
- Milkman by Anna Burns
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- Ordinary People by Diana Evans
- Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lilian Li
- Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
- Praise Songs for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
The three writers of Nigerian descent named on the longlist are Oyinkan Braithwaite for My Sister, the Serial Killer, Diana Evans for Ordinary People and Akwaeke Emezi, the award’s first ever outright non-binary writer, for Freshwater.
My Sister, the Serial Killer is about the dark and funny relationship between a murderous yet glamorous Lagosian fashion designer and her responsible older sister, always ready with bleach and rubber gloves. Braithwaite did not want to write “the great Nigerian novel”, rejecting the idea that there is a single Nigerian story. Instead, she said, she wanted to have fun with her imagination in this debut novel.
Ordinary People uses celebrity events like Michael Jackson’s overdose and a Jill Scott concert to wallow in the malaise of suburban middle-class life of couples in London. It was named one of The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2018.
Freshwater, another debut novel, depicts the multiple voices of an Igbo god living within a young woman, thus using Igbo cosmology to locate the experience of a trans African.
“Emezi’s novel takes the conversation about female-only spaces and non-binary identities out of an often inward-looking, white, Western enclave, to give it new meaning,” wrote judge Arifa Akbar.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction is in the process of becoming a charity and is now known as the Women’s Prize Trust.