First-timers challenge established novelists for Orange Prize

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The Independent Culture

Seven first-time novelists will battle it out against literary heavyweights, led by the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, for this year's £30,000 Orange Prize for women's fiction.

Seven first-time novelists will battle it out against literary heavyweights, led by the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, for this year's £30,000 Orange Prize for women's fiction.

The first-timers on the 20-strong list include Monica Ali, the author of Brick Lane, a story of Bangladeshi sisters which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Two of her Booker rivals, the Canadian author Margaret Atwood and the journalist Zoë Heller, will compete with Oryx and Crake and Notes on a Scandal respectively.

Half the list are British or partly British authors, including the previous Orange contenders Maggie Gee and Andrea Levy, with six American or partly American, including Anne Tyler. Australian and African writing, including the latest novel by Gillian Slovo, is represented on the list, which was whittled down from 130 entries. The Orange Prize is unique as it is only open to women writers, who can be of any age or nationality, with works written in English.

Sandi Toksvig, chairwoman of the judges, said she had feared she would be sick when the boxes containing all the novels first arrived. "But it was a complete pleasure," she said. "It was like having a university crash-course in the modern novel. It's a fantastically international range and there are novels that deal with the full minutiae of domestic life to the broad spectrum of international politics."

Ms Toksvig said the listed authors ranged from "very young authors to women in the fullness of their lives. There are authors, such as Stella Duffy, who haven't yet come to a wider audience, but we haven't shied away from [established] names". A shortlist will be announced on 27 April and the winner will be chosen on 8 June.

The Orange Prize was established in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women and was greeted with scepticism by some - mostly male - parts of the literary establishment. But it has proved an intriguing addition to the round of book prizes and has had some success in highlighting novels that other awards miss. Ms Toksvig said yesterday: "You only have to look at the track record of the prize to see how tremendously influential it has proved in book sales and promoting people who would not have been promoted otherwise."

An additional award for new writers will be celebrated from next year, the 10th anniversary of the prize. All first works of fiction - including novels, short story collections and novellas - will be eligible for the £10,000 Orange Award for New Writers. It will be possible to enter books for the principal Orange Prize and the New Writers award.

Kate Mosse, the writer who co-founded the prize, said: "We hope that this exciting new award will help promote and celebrate the work of novelists and short story writers at the beginning of their careers."

Martin Higgs, the literary editor of Waterstone's, said the Orange Prize had done a good job of picking out books that some of the more well-known prizes had overlooked. He said: "Last year's winner, Property, by Valerie Martin, had slipped through the net, but it has gone on to be a big success in paperback. There are lots of books here I would be really happy to see get more public attention."

The long-list

Monica Ali Brick Lane
Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake
Rupa Bajwa The Sari Shop
Stevie Davies Kith and Kin
Stella Duffy The State of Happiness
Maggie Gee The Flood
Sarah Hall The Electric Michelangelo
Shirley Hazzard The Great Fire
Zoë Heller Notes on a Scandal
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
Dinah Lee Küng A Visit from Voltaire
Andrea Levy Small Island
Joan London Gilgamesh
Sarah May The Internationals
Toni Morrison Love
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife
Gillian Slovo Ice Road
Rose Tremain The Colour
Anne Tyler The Amateur Marriage