Orange Prize

The Orange Prize, while some acclaimed female authors have called the award sexist and have refused to allow their books to be entered by their publishers, is a very prestigious literary award.  The prize goes to the best original full-length novel written by a female author of any nationality, written in English, and published in the United Kingdom in the preceding year.

Click here for the Orange Prize official site.

Click here for past winners of the Orange Prize.

33 thoughts on “Orange Prize

  1. Here’s an interesting post at A Commonplace Blog about the Orange Prize longlist.

    So I have a question: Is the Orange Prize sexist?

    A couple of well known women writers think so and have told their publishers not to submit their work for consideration.

    On the one hand, it is sexist. On the other, this year every NBCC award went to a man. And on my review of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral I asked whether there were any top tier American women writers. I have since come to the conclusion that, yes, there are. The reason I don’t know of them is a shame.

    I’m interested in thoughts.

  2. I do find the idea a bit odd, I don’t condemn it because clearly lots of folk find it useful and it brings authors to the fore who might otherwise not get attention, and that’s a good thing, but I do think gender is an odd basis on which to choose literature.

    Then again, I’ve at least twice now on the Guardian blogs seen commenters say they won’t read female authors, which strikes me as bizarre and frankly their loss, so it may well be there is still an issue here which this prize helps address.

  3. I must say the link is particularly stupid — so dumb, I decided not to comment.

    All prizes have their limitations. So you weigh the results in terms of those limitations. I don’t like mysteries, so I don’t pay a lot of attention to the Edgars — in no way does that reduce their impact for those who do like mysteries.

    So in one sense the Orange is sexist and I certainly think the Booker and Pulitzer carry more weight. The NBA seems to want to encourage off-the-wall fiction and that influences my opinion. I’d make some similar types of thoughts about the NBCC. Whatever the criteria, the Orange Prize has recognized some very good books — and this year’s list has some very good books on it — so it is a prize that has value. I see little point in getting into a snit about it; if you don’t like the “sexist” criteria, by all means ignore it.

  4. I also felt like the string of anti-feminism was probably a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do know that people feel that way. I agree with Kevin and Max here. I think the prize is valuable, because I know that my own experience in bookstores has been to unconsciously discount women writers, to my own discredit. This prize helps me overcome by introducing me the best books written by women.

    NOW . . . for another interesting question, and my own potential gripe about the award (and my wife’s real gripe with it): does the Orange Prize serve to equalize, to give women their just desserts in a biased industry? Or does it actually perpetuate the idea that women cannot compete with men? From her statement, “Such a prize was never needed,” it looks like this is the real reason A.S. Byatt won’t allow her publisher to submit her books for consideration and not because of any real concern for the excluded male writers.

    I know that women win plenty of the major awards, but it’s not equal. On a quick scan – i.e., don’t use these numbers in a report – 14 of the 42 Bookers; 27 of the 82 Pulitzers. Not an equal number, to be sure. A quick scan of Booker finalists reveals that 85 of 230 were women. In no year were all finalists women, but in two years, they were all men. Also, in no year was only one man a finalist, but in eleven years, only one woman was a finalist in what is usually a group of six.

    Interestingly, it was much more frequent for the finalists to be half women or even four of six women before the Orange Prize came about. In eleven of the 27 years sans Orange, at least half were women. In the thirteen years since, that has only happened three times (one year three of six women two years four of six). Also interestingly, in the five years preceeding the creation of the Orange Prize, one year had zero women, one year had two, and three years had one. That’s five of 28 in all.

    Now, I didn’t do a solid survey here, and don’t even know how to if I wanted to. Just thought these were interesting statistics, probably unrelated to the Orange Prize. But interesting . . .

    Now, the Orange Prize is 100% women all the time, finalists, winners, all! Is that good or bad? Does it help or hurt?

  5. I don’t think the post is tongue-in-cheek at all. References to “”disgusting, maybe even obscene” , “abuse of a literary prize” and “to pervert, really” strike me as anything but that. Seems to me this post is closer to hate literature than it is to satire — and of course if I actually made that accusation (and I do not) I would be guilty of the same excess. I’m thinking I know more about
    Texans than you do. Or maybe it comes from the fact that I live in a country and city that welcomed George Bush at a $500-a-plate lunch this week, while denying Scottish MP George Galloway the right to enter the country because of his identification with “terrorists”. Which one of those two is closest to being a war criminal?

    Amitav Ghosh refused to have his novel The Glass Palace considered for the Commonwealth Prize because that Prize, to him, reflected the very world that his novel criticized. That protest — which he seems to have abandoned, since he didn’t pull his latest book out of the Booker last year — makes sense and is a noble gesture. If A.S. Byatt, or anyone else, declines to compete in the Orange because of its criteria, I also accept that decision. In one sense, it does diminish the value of the prize — then again, nothing that Byatt has written lately would have won so it is a pretty symbolic protest.

    If you don’t like the Prize, by all means ignore it and even criticize it. Calling it “obscene” is truly excessive. I don’t think there should be a George W. Bush Library celebrating the disaster and deaths that resulted from his presidency — but I’m not going to call the state of Texas “perverts” because they choose to have one. If they want it, more power to them — I have the right to simply not visit. Or to pay attention to the Orange Prize, if I find that to be a problem.

    My guess is that every author who wins the Orange Prize is fully aware that she has won a contest that has restrictive criteria and, if winning contests is important to her, that it only half counts. That’s no reason to dispute the Prize — I’m sure not down on Pulitzer winners because they have to have American citizenship, or Booker winners because they need to be Commonwealth citizens, or Giller winners because they need to be Canadians. Turns out most of these prizes all have their own screening lenses.

  6. I have to admit, my reading it as tongue-in-cheek may have been wishful reading. I went back to see if there are any comments on the post, and there are none yet. I think at A Commonplace Blog you have to get your comment approved, so maybe he’s out at the moment. Hard to imagine no one has commented. Then again, maybe like Kevin, no one feels the need. I didn’t either.

  7. On another note, I’m interested in getting my hands on a few of these before the shortlist is announced. Any suggestions? I know I’ve been saying I’ll read Home, so maybe. I’ve also been intending to read A Mercy. But in a list like this, I’m much more fascinated in the ones I’ve never heard of.

  8. I certainly recommend Burnt Shadows — see my review. I’ve read The Flying Troutmans and would say you can skip that. I liked The Lost Dog, as I recall you didn’t. Home wasn’t to my taste, but I think you would like it more. I’ve been waiting for a blogger (hint…maybe Mrs. Berrett) to read and discuss Mercy because I don’t really trust the commercial reviews. John Self read the Arnold and that convinced me no to — it was the only Booker longlist book I didn’t read.

    Some of the descriptions of the others — Intuition, Evening of the Whole Day and An American Wife — spark interest, but I admit I’m waiting for more input before ordering and reading.

  9. I am not sure where to post this, so I will post it here.

    For anyone else who is contemplating their own website instead of wordpress, please don’t. I like Trevor a lot and certainly respect his views — since he set up this site, it has become so much more difficult to communicate with him. If I did not respect him so much, I admit the travails of this site would have sent me to the sidelines some weeks ago. I feel badly that technology might influence my comments on a reader that I respect, but fighting my way through to this site sometimes tests that resolve.

    Please, please, please don’t believe the techies when they say how great it is to have your own site. It only makes it more difficult to contribute. I certainly think Trevor made the wrong decision, but the rest of us can learn from his experience.

  10. I didn’t know there were any problems, Kevin. What typically happens? Does my blog not pop up? I’m curious to see if I can fix it because my blog is still powered by wordpress and should be pretty much the same (or is that just the techies speaking?).

  11. The problems are:

    — everything is much slower. I’ve had several occasions where I logged on to other sites just because I was waiting for connections on this one.
    — comments don’t get posted quickly, so you have to check (i.e. my comment above had not been posted when I logged on now) even though the index says there are no comments. I’d say this happens daily.
    — the pingback problem is annoying, but nothing more.
    — in the final analysis, nothing is better — a bunch of things are worse.

  12. I definitely appreciate that you still come around despite the “most annoying website” status I’m feeling. I’ll look around to see if I can find ways to fix the problems with the speed.

  13. I just eliminated some excess baggage; let me know if these problems evaporate into thin air (that would sure be nice).

    On another note, Kevin: you mentioned that you have Dance to the Music of Time from Folio. Did that get discontinued? I can’t find it on their site. I’m not quite familiar with how the Folio Society runs things, though I’m very interested in their volumes.

  14. Dance shows up on my Folio Society site (albeit at a non-discounted price of $65 a book for the four books) — I suspect this might be a case of overlapping copyright and you might want to tap into the UK site. That’s where most of my FS books come from — and they arrive in this great British Post bag, but that’s another issue. I do know the Dance quartet was available at a discount a few months ago, but that offer may now have passed.

  15. I have read:

    The Lost Dog, Home, A Mercy. I got about a hundred pages into The Household Guide to Dying, but gave up on it. It was an attempt at humour that I didn’t find funny.

    Of the three I’ve read, I loved Home and liked the other two. The problem with recommending Home though is that you probably need to read Gilead first for it to make much sense, and I didn’t like Gilead. If you’ve read Gilead, I would highly recommend Home, whether or not you liked Gilead.

    I find the Orange Prize winners very hit and miss. I absolutely hated Half of a Yellow Sun, but loved On Beauty, for example.

  16. Trevor, you missed:
    Samantha Hunt The Invention of Everything Else

    I have read this one and quite liked it. So I’ve read four – hopefully some of those I’ve read will make the shortlist.

  17. By the way, I have not had any problems navigating the site, Trevor, but I don’t know how to change the picture that shows next to my name. I prefer my kitty cat.

  18. Thanks for stopping by Colette!

    Whoops! I did miss the Hunt book. I guess I’ll wait until the shortlist is announced tomorrow and update everything.

    About Home: I loved Gilead, so I’m very encouraged about Home, especially since you didn’t like Gilead. Most people I’ve heard from loved both or didn’t really like either. Have you read Robinson’s Housekeeping? I loved it too and highly recommend it. I read both of them only recently, so I’ve put off reading Home, even though it has so far been a finalist of all of the big prizes. Soon! (though I keep saying that)

  19. I haven’t read Housekeeping yet but I have recently acquired it. I think Gilead just moved too slowly for me – I needed a bit more intrigue which was provided in the end with Jack. Home, being centred around Jack, was more to my liking.

  20. It looks to be a good year for the Orange Prize. The short list looks good – I would read any of them (and two of them I have read).

  21. I have to agree, Colette. When the longlist came out I wasn’t that interested in it as a whole, and that trickled down to the individual books (maybe too long?). But with this list, all look very interesting. I too would read any of them.

  22. I think this is a very good shortlist as well — I too have only read two (Home and Burnt Shadows). The latter is my “sleeper of the year” book for 2009 — it is interesting that my blog review of it is getting a handful of googled searches every day — looks like it might be hitting the book club agenda, which is a boon for sales. I have Molly Fox’s Birthday and Scottsboro on my list but may not get to them until post-Prize since I am having trouble buying both.

  23. Something worth checking out: Bloomsbury will have Burnt Shadows available for download for 24 hours, starting April 22, 12 noon BST. Check it out here. Unfortunately for me and many others, this is available in the UK only.

  24. A very interesting Bloomsbury initiative, although Burnt Shadows is a book that I would not want to try reading on the computer screen, but then I am an aging curmudgeon. Bloomsbury is also testing a very interesting program of making electronic versions of their catalogue available to libraries at low cost — nice to see a company trying to make technology work for readers, instead of against them.

  25. I’ve now read Scottsboro and would recommend it highly. It weaves fact and fiction seamlessly. Though I can picture the events being made into a film, it is not overly dramatized nor overly sentimental, both of which must have been tough to avoid given the subject matter. Excellent.

  26. I’ve finished reading the shortlist now and the only one I didn’t like is Burnt Shadows, which means it will probably win.

  27. Burnt Shadows is my favorite — but Molly Fox’s Birthday may overtake that now that it has finally arrived. Given that I never pick a prize winner, I would say that I have doomed Ms. Shamsie.

  28. I look forward to your review of Molly Fox’s Birthday, Kevin. Unfortunately it is more forgettable than the others for me so it has fallen down to 4th on the list, but I’d be happy if any of my top 4 won.

    1. Home
    2. The Wilderness
    3. Scottsboro
    4. Molly Fox’s Birthday
    5. The Invention of Everything Else
    6. Burnt Shadows

  29. I’m glad you’ve been going through this list for me, Kevin and Colette. I’m not sure I’ll make it to any but Home, which I’ve been planning to read since it came out. In fact, it is the reason I read the Housekeeping and Gilead, but I enjoyed them so much I wanted to let them stand alone for a while before adding to them. I’m not worried Home will dilute the experience, but it will change it.

    By the way, sorry for being unresponsive here everyone. We are in the middle of moving and are on a mini vacation to the Berkshires. Hopefully by the middle of next week all will be back to a good routine (though in a new place).

  30. I read Molly Fox’s Birthday today, Colette, and while I loved the first half I am afraid for me it wandered into nowhere in the second half. That’s probably a reflection of two things. One is that I was more interested in the “drama” part of the book than exploring the family conflicts/relationships which take over the book. The other is that I’d just finished reading Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock (stay tuned for a post in a few days) and Madden is no Munro when it comes to exploring family.

    I am intrigued at both the variety and quality in this Orange shortlist and I agree with your kudos to the jury. Compared to last year’s Booker where the judges attempt to get different types of titles meant some mediocre works were there, these are not just very different, they are very good (well, I didn’t like Home that much, but I know that’s mainly me). The final choice will be most interesting.

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