This Women’s Fiction Prize Seeks to Erase Gender Gaps in North America

Before Canadian author, Carol Shields passed away, her vision was that one day she would “write away the invisibility of women’s lives.” Now a literary prize in her name is being set up worth CAD$150,000 which will be known as the Carol Shields prize for fiction which will be the equivalent of the UK’s Women’s prize which will be celebrating excellence in the fiction genre by women and non-binary writers. The prize which will be launched in 2022 is also being supported by famous names like Margaret Atwood and will also help catapult women writers into the spotlight. Canadian novelist Susan Swan, one of the prize’s founder said, “The large amount is a statement of belief in the brilliance of women’s writing.”

This award will balance the gender scales in the awarding of prizes for women

The award will also encourage women writers in various areas of the US and Canada to come out of the shadows and Shields was someone who was intensely committed to seeing women writers get wider recognition, saying, “as a woman who has elected a writing life, I am interested in writing away the invisibility of women’s lives, looking at writing as an act of redemption. In order to do this, I need the companionship, the example, of other women who are writing.” Shield’s was not widely accepted by male critics because her work was what was considered “lightweight” because a majority of her novels were set in the home and were about family and relationships. Margaret Atwood said this new award will balance the gender scales in the awarding of prizes for women which today stands at one-third for female authors to two-thirds male authors. American Pulitzer-winning writer Richard Russo also approved of this award and said, “It’s more than a little embarrassing that in the 21st century the Carol Shields prize for fiction should be necessary to address an obvious gender imbalance in the awarding of literary prizes, but it is.”

“We also know that while women seem to read all genders of writers, men tend to only read other men”

Since the year, 1901, a total of 15 women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature and hence, this prize will really serve its purpose of getting women authors at the forefront. Jodi Picoult and Margaret Atwood together have been very vocal about the gender imbalance in the literary world and in publishing, “It’s getting people to understand that there are reasons that we need a literary prize that is dedicated to women at this point in publishing and … that ultimately it’s going to benefit not just women, but really all readers. Because we know categorically that books that win awards are more widely read and we also know that while women seem to read all genders of writers, men tend to only read other men,” added Picoult. The aim of the award is also to create a record of women writers and also to encourage men to read more women authors because there is a tendency where women read both male and female authors, but men only tend to read male authors and this is one area that this literary prize wants to disrupt. 

Image credit: The New York Times

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