Literature’s annual competitive season begins today with the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is a contest much to be celebrated. What used to be the Orange Prize has drawn readers’ attention to such luminaries as Carol Shields and Lionel Shriver. Its day has passed, however.
The event is not only an inherently “sexist prize”, as A S Byatt once remarked. The uproar at a men-only prize can only be imagined. It is also one which exacerbates the problem it was supposed to alleviate, entrenching division that should rather be swept away.
The solution to the neglect of female writers is not a separate contest; sustained pressure on judges of “mainstream” prizes to overcome their prejudices is. Anything else is just kicking the can down the road. And, to start things off, the Women’s Prize should be open to all.