Meditations on the Women’s Prize Longlist

The only book I’ve read on the Women’s Prize longlsit.

I happily rattled the virtual pages of The Guardian. The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced. This year I’ll finally read the whole longlist, I thought. Well perhaps not, but I have already read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: one down.

The longlist is very long. Seventeen books, only eight of which are published in the U.S. Now why these particular books, I always wonder? I ‘ll start with the diversity angle, because if they’re not diverse enough, everybody gets fired.

Four of the novels are by Black writers, one by an Indian American writer, and one by a trans (or is it Trans?) writer. In 2019 a trans writer raised a stink about not being considered a woman for the Women’s Prize longlist, so they changed the rules.

Bernadine Evaristo, chair of the judges, worries about being criticized for the lack of older authors on the list. She adds apologetically that Dawn French is the oldest on the longlsit at 63. She says, “In an ideal world, you want writers who are emerging and you want writers at every stage to continue to have good careers, so what happens when they get into their 70s and 80s? Is it that they’re suddenly not published, or they’re not submitted for the prizes? I also noticed that there isn’t much experimental writing being published, according to the books that have been submitted for the prize … Maybe publishers are just risk averse.”

I do not expect Evaristo and the judges to weigh every tiny statistic. Actually, Dawn French fills their “old woman” slot! But let me add that quite a few prestigious works of fiction were published by older women in the U.S. last year: 83-year-old Gail Godwin’s stunning novel, Old Lovegood Girls (possibly her masterpiece), 82-year-old Lily Tuck’s exquisite collection of stories, Heathcliff Redux and Other Stories, 68-year-old Alice Hoffman’s Magic Lessons, 65-year-old Gish Jen’s The Resisters (a great dystopian novel), and 66-year-old Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman, another masterpiece. And these are only the ones I read.

Not to be controversial but isn’t it just safer for the panel to ignore old women than the trans? Nobody will protest ageism. Or if they do, they won’t be noticed.

As Isabel Allende says in The Soul of a Woman: “This is the era of emboldened grandmothers, and we are the population’s fastest growing group. We are women who have lived long lives; we have nothing to lose and therefore are not easily scared; we can speak up because we don’t care to compete, to please, or to be popular; and we know the immense value of friendship and collaboration.”

I am not a grandmother, but I know what she means.

And here is the Women’s Prize longlist:
1 The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
2 Small Pleasures by Claire Chambers
3 Piranesi by Susanna Clark
4 The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig
5 Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
6 Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
7 Because of You by Dawn French
8 Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
9 Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
10 How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
11 Luster by Raven Leilani
12 No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
13 Consent by Annabel Lyon
15 Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
16 Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
17 Summer by Ali Smith