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New women's fiction prize to address 'gender imbalance' in North America | Books

The late Canadian author Carol Shields wanted to “writ[e] away the invisibility of women’s lives”. Now a major new literary award is being set up in her name: worth CAD$150,000, the Carol Shields prize for fiction will be a North American equivalent to the UK’s Women’s prize, celebrating “excellence in fiction” by female and non-binary writers.

Launching in 2022, the prize – the first annual award for women’s fiction in North America – is supported by names including Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan and Scott Turow. It is intended to put “the work of women writers in the spotlight”, say its founders, and to “acknowledge, celebrate and promote fiction by Canadian and American women writers”.

“The large amount is a statement of belief in the brilliance of women’s writing,” the Canadian novelist Susan Swan, one of the prize’s founders, told CNN.

Shields, the Pulitzer-winning novelist who was born in America and based in Canada, was chosen as its namesake because she was “committed to the wider recognition” of women writers’ voices and lives, said organisers, pointing to Shields’ comment that “as a woman who has elected a writing life, I am interested in writing away the invisibility of women’s lives, looking at writing as an act of redemption. In order to do this I need the companionship, the example, of other women who are writing.”

“She wrote novels that traditional male critics would’ve considered ‘lightweight’ because they were set in the home and were about family relationships,” Swan told CNN.

The prize is open to all American and Canadian women and non-binary writers. Titles in the running for the prize need to have been published in the US or Canada, including translations from Spanish and French, according to CBC. Authors must be citizens and current residents, of at least five years, of Canada or the US.

Atwood said the new award would “help balance the gender scales in the awarding of North American prizes for excellence in fiction, which, overall, now stand at one-third female to two-thirds male”. The Women’s prize was set up in the UK after the Booker prize shortlist of 1991 had included no women at all. Since 1969, 31 men and 16 women have won the Booker.

“The UK has such a prize; Canada used to have one. Readers should welcome this initiative,” said Atwood.

The American Pulitzer-winning writer Richard Russo agreed, calling it “long overdue”. “It’s more than a little embarrassing that in the 21st century the Carol Shields prize for fiction should be necessary to address an obvious gender imbalance in the awarding of literary prizes, but it is,” he said.

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