Newcomer gives literary prize some teeth

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The Independent Culture

The astonishing success of White Teeth, the first novel of 24-year-old Zadie Smith, continued last night when it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

The six shortlisted authors for the £30,000 prize, the biggest in UK-published fiction, were announced almost three weeks early, after their names were leaked to the Evening Standard in London.

Other shortlisted authors included the newspaper columnist Linda Grant for When I Lived In Modern Times; Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, a Dublin librarian, for The Dancers Dancing; Judy Budnitz for If I Told You Once; Elizabeth Strout for Amy and Isabelle; and Rebecca Wells for The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

The prize, now entering its fifth year, is open to women anywhere in the world writing in English. The cheque will be awarded at a reception at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on 6 June.

The judges include Ffion Hague, wife of the leader of the Conservative Party, Amanda Foreman, author of the bestselling Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and the columnist Polly Toynbee.

Ms Toynbee, who chairs the panel, said last night: "The eclectic mix of British and American writers on the shortlist perfectly reflects the international and contemporary flavour of the Orange Prize."

She added: "It was a tough job to whittle the longlist down to six but we are thrilled by the diversity of themes and cultures that has emerged in this year's list which we believe will enable it to appeal to the widest possible audience."

Organisers are careful to note the merit of all entries, but popular money is on Ms Smith, whose novel was sold for a six-figure sum to Hamish Hamilton on the strength of a few pages. Set in multicultural Britain White Teeth, which covers the friendship between two families, has had the kind of critical acclaim and media coverage established authors crave. Salman Rushdie said of it: "It's an astonishingly assured début, funny and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy... It has bite."

The Orange Prize itself has garnered much publicity since its inception, but there have been criticisms, namely that it featured only affluent, middle-class authors, and that itpigeon-holed women's fiction.

In 1997 the academic Lisa Jardine complained that fiction written by British women tended to be smug, parochial and narrow-minded. The latest Orange nominations and shortlist have done much to dispel this image, with a variety of global themes and settings. There are a number of male firstperson narratives, and one in which the voice is that of amiddle-aged Tasmanian hunter.

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