BOOKS: PICK OF THE WEEK

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The Independent Culture
The past few weeks have seen two front-page literary kerfuffles. Professor Lola Young, chair of judges for the Orange Prize allegedly - not actually - dismissed British Women novelists as "piddling". And Andrew Motion (right) was annointed as the new Poet Laureate, provoking an astonishingly vituperative response from some members of the literary community.

This Monday at the British Library, you can check out the spin. Andrew Motion chairs and introduces the Orange Prize for Fiction 1999 with shortlisted writers reading and discussing their work. "Literary prizes," he says, "do wonderful things for literature, allowing books to get the audience they deserve. The Orange Prize brings to a wider audience books which happen to be written by women, but which address us all. It's an incredibly strong shortlist this year."

That shortlist is: Suzanne Berne's A Crime in the Neighborhood; Julia Blackburn's The Leper's Companions; Marilyn Bowering's Visible Worlds; Jane Hamilton's The Short History of a Prince; Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and Toni Morrison's Paradise. Motion admits to having a favourite, but adamantly refuses to go public with it.

But hold on a sec. This is the Orange Prize for Fiction. The women's prize. And Andrew Motion is a man. "This is the first year we've had a high-profile male connected with the prize," explains administrator Diana Reich. "It seemed a logical progression. The Orange prize is, after all, designed to draw all readers' attention to the top women writers from around the world. All readers, both male and female."

The shortlist readings were introduced to open the Prize to the punters. "Award ceremonies are always private events," said Reich. "We wanted to give the public the chance to have some direct contact with the authors on our shortlist."

If you can't make the British Library on Monday, try the Hay Festival on Sunday. Or tune in to the award ceremony via www.orangeprize.com, on-line live on Tuesday from 6.30pm onwards.

Orange Prize for Fiction 1999 shortlist readings with Poet Laureate Andrew Motion; The British Library, 96 Euston Road London NW1 (0171-412 722) Mon, 6.15pm, pounds 7.50/pounds 6.00, boxoffice@bl.uk

At the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye (01497 821299) Sun, 6pm, free, @litfest.co.uk

Lisa Gee

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