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Women's Prize for Fiction

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Women's Prize for Fiction
Awarded forBest full-length novel written in English by a woman of any nationality, published in the UK
Sponsored by
LocationUnited Kingdom
Presented byWomen's Prize for Fiction
First awarded1996
Websitewww.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk Edit this at Wikidata

The Women's Prize for Fiction (previously with sponsor names Orange Prize for Fiction (1996–2006 and 2009–2012), Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007–08) and Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (2014–2017) is one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prizes.[1][2][3] 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.[4] A sister prize, the Women's Prize for Non-Fiction, was launched in 2023.

Early history[edit]

The prize was established in 1996, to recognise the literary achievement of female writers.[5][6] The inspiration for the 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. A group of women and men working in the industry – authors, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, journalists – therefore met to discuss the issue. Research showed that women's literary achievements were often not acknowledged by the major literary prizes.

The winner of the prize receives £30,000, along with a bronze sculpture called the Bessie created by artist Grizel Niven.[7] Typically, a longlist of nominees is announced around March each year, followed by a shortlist in June; within days the winner is announced. The winner is selected by a board of "five leading women" each year.[8]

In support of the 2004 award, the Orange Prize for Fiction published a list of 50 contemporary "essential reads". The books were chosen by a sample of 500 people attending the Guardian Hay Festival and represent the audience's "must have" books by living UK writers. The list is called the Orange Prize for Fiction's "50 Essential Reads by Contemporary Authors".[9]

Name history and sponsors[edit]

The prize was originally sponsored by Orange, a telecommunications company. In May 2012, it was announced Orange would be ending its corporate sponsorship of the prize.[10] There was no corporate sponsor for 2013; sponsorship was by "private benefactors", led by Cherie Blair and writers Joanna Trollope and Elizabeth Buchan.[11]

Beginning in 2014, the prize was sponsored by the liquor brand Baileys Irish Cream, owned by the drinks conglomerate Diageo.[12] In January 2017, Diageo announced that it had "regretfully decided to make way for a new sponsor", and would step aside after the 2017 prize was announced that June.[13][14]

In June 2017, the prize announced that it would change its name to simply "Women's Prize for Fiction" starting in 2018, and would be supported by a family of sponsors.[15] As of 2023 the family of sponsors includes Baileys and Audible.[16]

Award name[edit]

  • Orange Prize for Fiction (1996–2006 and 2009–2012)
  • Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007–2008)
  • Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (2014–2017)
  • Women's Prize for Fiction (2018–present)


The prize has "spawned" several sub-category competitions and awards: the Harper's Bazaar Broadband Short Story Competition, the Orange Award for New Writers, the Penguin/Orange Readers' Group Prize, and the Reading Book Group of the Year.[17][18]

In 2023 it was announced that a sister prize, the Women's Prize for Non-Fiction, would be awarded for the first time in 2024, with a £30,000 prize which for the first three years would be funded by the Charlotte Aitken Trust, who would also supply the winner's statuette, "The Charlotte".[19]

Winners and shortlisted writers[edit]

The winner of the 2024 Women's Prize for Fiction was V. V. Ganeshananthan for her second novel, Brotherless Night, .[20]


In May 2014, Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction launched the #ThisBook campaign to find out which books, written by women, have had the biggest impact on readers.[21] Nineteen "inspirational women" were chosen to launch the campaign and then thousands of people from the "general public" submitted their ideas via Twitter.[22] The 20 winners were announced on 29 July 2014.[22] The organisers noted that nearly half (eight) of the winning books were published before 1960.[22]

Reclaim Her Name[edit]

To mark the 25th anniversary of the prize, sponsor Bailey's worked with the prize organisers to republish "25 books previously published under male pen names, with the real female authors’ names finally printed on the covers, to honour their achievements and give them the credit they deserve" as part of the series "Reclaim Her Name".[23] Among the books were Middlemarch, republished under the name Mary Ann Evans in place of George Eliot; A Phantom Lover, republished under the name Violet Paget in place of Vernon Lee; Indiana, republished under the name Amantine Aurore Dupin in place of George Sand; and Takekurabe, republished under the name Natsu Higuchi in place of Ichiyō Higuchi.[23]

The campaign has been controversial, attracting criticism from the press as well as scholars and publishers. Among the criticisms were a number of factual errors: Reclaim Her Name published the biographical The Life of Martin R. Delany, in this edition attributed to Frances Rollin Whipper in place of Frank A. Rollin, with a cover image depicting the abolitionist Frederick Douglass instead of Martin Delany.[24] The series was also criticised for having attributed a work of disputed authorship to Edith Maude Eaton, the given name of Sui Sin Far,[24] and for having used a number of names which the authors the works are attributed to appear never to have used themselves, among them Mary Ann Evans, the purported "real" name of George Eliot, who in fact never combined "Mary Ann" and "Evans", having instead at different times signed with variants including Mary Anne Evans, Marian Evans Lewes and Mary Ann Cross.[25] Bailey's issued an apology for the erroneous cover of The Life of Martin R. Delany, attributing the use of the image to "human error", and replaced the cover.[26]

Other criticisms expressed skepticism about the series' understanding of "pseudonymity" and "anonymity" and questioned the implicit assumptions behind its creation, namely that it is possible to "reclaim" a self which is not one's own; that a legal or given name is necessarily more relevant or, in the words of the campaign, "real" than a chosen one; and that the authors republished as part of the series would have chosen to use a different professional name than the one they invented and maintained throughout their careers and sometimes personal lives.[25][27][28][29] The academic journal Legacy, for example, publicised an extensive critical discussion of the campaign, featuring scholars such as Lois Brown of Arizona State University, Mary Chapman of the University of British Columbia, Brigitte Fielder of the University of Wisconsin; Grace Lavery of the University of California, Berkeley, Christine Yao of University College London and Sandra Zagarell of Oberlin College, among others.[30][31] At the same time, Olivia Rutigliano wrote for Literary Hub that the campaign's use of the authors' legal and given names "blatantly ignores their own decisions about how to present their works, and in some instances, perhaps even how to present themselves".[29] Catherine Taylor of The Times Literary Supplement similarly cautioned that a "one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the complexities of publishing history, in which pseudonyms aren’t always about conforming to patriarchal or other obvious standard", noting that Vernon Lee entirely abandoned the legal name Violet Paget both on the page and off it, while George Sand incorporated it into her public presentation, as part of which she also wore menswear, smoked and engaged in behaviours which queered gender boundaries of the time.[25] Similarly, Grace Lavery has pointed out that, unlike Mary Shelley and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who wrote under "feminine" names, or else Anne Brontë, Emily Brontë and Charlotte Brontë, who gradually adopted them, George Eliot chose to continue writing as Eliot even after having been "outed" as Marian Evans Lewes, appearing even to have "relished being thought of as male, and [having been] disappointed when people thought otherwise".[32] Amy Richardson at The Attic on Eighth has additionally pointed out that in renaming Sui Sin Far or Mahlon T. Wing, who "wrote under a Chinese name as a way of reclaiming her Chinese identity" into Edith Maude Eaton and "publishing her work under her ‘white’ name, conveyed upon her by her white British father," the campaign "strip[s] her of her identity as a Chinese woman and place[s] this particular work into a bizarre place where it becomes more offensive".[28] Richardson also cautions that of the "women who have been chosen to have their names ‘reclaimed’," many apart from Lee and Sand also "actively blurred the boundaries with how they presented themselves on a day to day basis. [...] This playing with gender presentation alongside a choice of male pseudonyms suggests that there is more going on here than the Women’s Prize campaign allows space for there to be".[28]


The fact that the prize excludes male writers has provoked comment.[33] After the prize was founded, Auberon Waugh nicknamed it the "Lemon Prize", while Germaine Greer said there would soon be a prize for "writers with red hair".[34] A. S. Byatt, who won the 1990 Man Booker Prize, said it was a "sexist prize", claiming that "such a prize was never needed". She refused to have her work considered for this prize.[35] In 2007, former editor of The Times Simon Jenkins called the prize "sexist".[36] In 2008, writer Tim Lott said that "the Orange Prize is sexist and discriminatory, and it should be shunned".[37][38]

On the other hand, in 2011 London journalist Jean Hannah Edelstein wrote about her own "wrong reasons" for supporting the prize:

Unfortunately, the evidence shows that the experiences of male and female writers after they set their pens down are often distinctively different. That's why I've changed my mind about the Orange prize. I still agree with Byatt that the idea of female-specific subject matter is spurious, but I don't think that's what the prize rewards.[39]

In 2012 Cynthia Ozick, writing in The New York Times, said the Prize "was not born into an innocent republic of letters" when it comes to a history of women writers being discriminated against. She concluded: "For readers and writers, in sum, the more prizes the better, however they are structured, and philosophy be damned."[40]

In 1999 Lola Young, chair of the judges' panel, claimed that British female literature fell into two categories, either "insular and parochial" or "domestic in a piddling kind of way".[41] Linda Grant suffered accusations of plagiarism following her award in 2000.[42] In 2001 a panel of male critics strongly criticised the Orange shortlist and produced its own.[43] In 2007, broadcaster Muriel Gray, chair of the panel, said that judges had to wade through "a lot of dross" to get to the shortlist, but praised that year's winner, Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, saying: "This is a moving and important book by an incredibly exciting author."[44]

In 2019, Akwaeke Emezi's debut novel, Freshwater, was nominated – the first time a non-binary transgender author has been nominated for the prize. Women's prize judge Professor Kate Williams said that the panel did not know Emezi was non-binary when the book was chosen, but she said Emezi was happy to be nominated. Non-binary commentator Vic Parsons wrote that the nomination raised uncomfortable questions, asking: "would a non-binary author who was assigned male at birth have been longlisted? I highly doubt it."[45] After the nomination, it was announced that the Women's Prize Trust was working on new guidelines for transgender, non-binary, and genderfluid authors. The Women's Prize later asked for Emezi's "sex as defined by law" when submitting The Death of Vivek Oji for inclusion. Emezi chose to withdraw, and said that they would not submit their future novels for consideration, calling the requirement transphobic.[46] Joanna Prior, Chair of Trustees for the Women's Prize for Fiction, has stated that in the prize's terms and conditions, "the word 'woman' equates to a cis woman, a transgender woman, or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex".[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pryor, Fiona (28 December 2007). "Life after Orange Prize success". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  2. ^ Reynolds, Nigel (12 April 2008). "Small Island voted best Orange prize winner of past decade". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  3. ^ Forna, Aminatta (11 June 2005). "Stranger than fiction". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  4. ^ "Rules for entry". Orange prize for Fiction. Archived from the original on 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2012-06-01.
  5. ^ "Orange Prize FAQs". Orange prize for Fiction. Retrieved 2012-06-01.
  6. ^ Merritt, Stephanie (28 October 2007). "The model of a modern writer". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 June 2009.
  7. ^ "About the Prize". Orange prize for Fiction. Retrieved 2012-06-01.
  8. ^ "How the Prize is judged". Orange prize for Fiction. Retrieved 2012-06-01.
  9. ^ "Harry's 'must-read' snub", London Evening Standard, 7 June 2004.
  10. ^ Page, Benedicte (22 May 2012). "Orange to cease sponsorship of Fiction Prize". The Bookseller. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  11. ^ McCrum, Robert (13 October 2012). "How prize that used to be Orange was saved – and rebranded". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  12. ^ Flood, Alison (3 June 2013). "Baileys all round at Women's Prize for fiction". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  13. ^ Kean, Danuta (30 January 2017). "Baileys drops women's prize for fiction sponsorship". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  14. ^ "Women's Prize for Fiction: Baileys withdraws sponsorship". BBC News. 30 January 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  15. ^ "Women's Prize for Fiction Announces New Sponsorship Model for 2018". womensprizeforfiction.co.uk. 1 June 2017. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  16. ^ "Sponsors". Women's Prize for Fiction. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  17. ^ O'Donnell, Patrick (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction, see "Awards and Prizes" by Richard Todd, pp. 19–22.
  18. ^ Maunder, Andrew (ed.), The Facts On File Companion to the British Short Story, see "Awards and Prizes" by Vana Avegerinou, pp. 22–24.
  19. ^ Shaffi, Sarah (8 February 2023). "Women's prize to launch annual award for women's non-fiction writing". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  20. ^ "Announcing the 2024 Winners of the Women's Prizes". Women's Prize. 13 June 2024. Retrieved 13 June 2024.
  21. ^ Bausells, Marta (29 July 2014). "Which books by women have had the biggest impact on you?". The Guardian]. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  22. ^ a b c "To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee takes top spot in #ThisBook campaign". womensprizeforfiction.co.uk. 29 July 2014. Archived from the original on 30 July 2014. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  23. ^ a b "Baileys Reclaim Her Name | Baileys UK". 2020-08-12. Archived from the original on 2020-08-12. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  24. ^ a b Cain, Sian (2020-08-15). "'Sloppy': Baileys under fire over Reclaim Her Name books for Women's prize". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  25. ^ a b c Taylor, Catherine. "The story of a new name | Why the 'Reclaim Her Name' project misunderstands pseudonymity". TLS. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  26. ^ "Reclaim Her Name Campaign | Baileys UK". 2020-08-17. Archived from the original on 2020-08-17. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  27. ^ McGreevy, Nora (August 20, 2020). "Why a Campaign to 'Reclaim' Women Writers' Names Is So Controversial". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  28. ^ a b c Richardson, Amy (2020-09-22). "Why #ReclaimHerName is White Feminist Bullshit". The Attic On Eighth. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  29. ^ a b "The #ReclaimHerName initiative ignores the authorial choices of the writers it represents. | Literary Hub". 2020-09-20. Archived from the original on 2020-09-20. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  30. ^ legacyeditor (2020-09-22). "A Response to Baileys' #reclaimhername: A Forum on the Challenges of Literary Recovery". Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  31. ^ "Search Results for "reclaimhername"". Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  32. ^ "Down With These So-Called "Gender Categories"!". 2019-03-19. Archived from the original on 2019-03-19. Retrieved 2024-04-27.
  33. ^ Pressley, James (21 April 2009). "Robinson, Feldman Make Final Round in Orange Prize for Fiction". Bloomberg. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  34. ^ Bedell, Geradline (6 March 2005). "Textual politics". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  35. ^ Alberge, Dalya (18 March 2008). "A. S. Byatt denounces 'sexist' Orange prize". The Times. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  36. ^ Reynolds, Nigel (18 April 2007). "Booker prize author joins Orange shortlist". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  37. ^ Guest, Katy (6 June 2008). "The Big Question: Has the time come to close the book on women-only literary prizes?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  38. ^ Oakes, Keily (3 June 2003). "The fiction of women's writing". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  39. ^ Edelstein, Jean Hannah (16 March 2011). "I'm an Orange prize convert – for all the wrong reasons". Books Blog. (theguardian.com). Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  40. ^ "Prize or Prejudice". The New York Times. 6 June 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  41. ^ Gibbons, Fiachra (10 May 1999). "'Piddling' British fiction loses out to Americans". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  42. ^ Kennedy, Maev (8 June 2000). "Orange prize winner rejects claims of plagiarism". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  43. ^ Gibbons, Flachra (19 May 2001). "Sexes clash on Orange prize". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  44. ^ Majendie, Paul (6 June 2007). "Nigerian author wins top women's fiction prize". Reuters. Retrieved 7 June 2009.
  45. ^ "Opinion: Be careful before celebrating the recognition of Akwaeke Emezi". The Independent. 2019-03-09. Retrieved 2022-04-08.
  46. ^ "Akwaeke Emezi shuns Women's prize over request for details of sex as defined 'by law'". the Guardian. 2020-10-05. Retrieved 2022-04-08.
  47. ^ "Women's Prize on Twitter: 'A statement regarding eligibility for the Women's Prize for Fiction.… '". 2021-12-20. Archived from the original on 20 December 2021. Retrieved 2022-04-08.

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