Women authors left off list of the year's top 10 books
Female writers won several major awards this year – including the Man Booker Prize – but the industry magazine doesn't include a single one in its round-up
Sunday 08 November 2009
The publishing world has been plunged into a new row over sexism after the authoritative Publishers Weekly omitted to include a single female author in its list of the year's top 10 titles.
Leading British women writers rounded on the respected industry magazine yesterday after its pick of 2009's must-read books failed to nominate some of the year's biggest literary successes, such as Hilary Mantel, whose Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize, or Alice Munro, who won its international equivalent.
Lionel Shriver, the prize-winning author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, said the selection was further evidence of the "weirdly retrograde sexual sensibility" that dominated publishing. "Every time a list like this comes out it just helps to propagate the same attitudes." Shriver said. "Publishing takes men more seriously than women. Female writing is regarded as second tier; there is a default assumption that men are the heavy hitters."
An all-male Booker Prize shortlist in 1991 sparked so much outrage that a women-only award, the Orange Prize for Fiction, soon followed.
Publishers Weekly's choice spanned different literary genres and the globe, with non-fiction works such as Blake Bailey's biography of John Cheever and Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder rubbing shoulders with Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi and Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. Louisa Ermelino, the novelist, journalist and the magazine's reviews director, said it had "disturbed us" that its list was all male, but insisted: "We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the 'big' books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet."
But authors were dismayed that Mantel had failed to make the grade. Helen Dunmore, whose A Spell of Winter won the inaugural Orange Prize in 1996, said: "It does seem strange that it wouldn't include Wolf Hall, one of Mantel's finest books, and a hugely enjoyable one."
Claire Tomalin, the biographer, who is married to the novelist Michael Frayn, said: "It sounds like an eccentric list and it is a bit odd to exclude Hilary Mantel. In my pantheon, there are lots of very good female writers."
The novelist Kathy Lette added: "Apparently dinosaurs still roam the earth. They're all at Publishers Weekly. This list proves that the only support women authors get is from our Wonderbras. As women make up 90 per cent of the fiction-buying public, perhaps we should make a point and girl-cott male authors until our work is given the same critical acclaim and public backing."
Other big awards won by women this year include The Los Angeles Times book prize, which went to Marilynne Robinson, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, won by Elizabeth Strout.
'It does seem strange not to include Wolf Hall, one of Mantel's finest books, and a hugely enjoyable one'
'Apparently, dinosaurs still roam the earth. They're all at Publishers Weekly'
'Publishing takes men more seriously than women. Female writing is regarded as second tier'
'In my pantheon, there are lots of very good female writers'
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