Debate: Hilary Mantel has been longlisted with six newcomers, but do we need a Women's Prize for Fiction?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

Today the Women's Prize for Fiction releases its longlist to kick off the literary awards season. Formerly known as the Orange Prize, the £30,000 award launched in 1996 in response to an absence of women on shortlists for existing prizes.

But does the award do more harm to women writers than good?

Case for: Cornered

If the aim is greater recognition of female writers, this award backfires spectacularly. By herding literature written by women into a separate category it suggests novels on its longlist belong to a genre separate to those written by men. They don't. Great writing has nothing to do with gender. Would winners - whose number include Zadie Smith - really be happy to go down in history as a much lauded "Woman writer"? Fat chance. This Prize creates a glass ceiling where none really exists. 

Case against: Boost

Institutional sexism runs through the literary world. In 1992 the Booker didn't include a single woman on its shortlist - just one sign of a publishing and judging elite dominated by men. The Women's Prize for Fiction is a klaxon call. Moreover, it gives a boost to those writers it chooses, helping them to greater recognition both in terms of sales and future awards. Belittling the award simply belittles the barriers female authors face - which remain high to this day.