Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oranges & lemons

The Orange Prize for Fiction has been distracting me of late. Why? Because once again someone who previously crossed my radar, however tangentially, appeared on the list. The first time was when Patricia Wood, a woman I'd encountered on a literary agent's blog I used to frequent, was short listed in 2008 for her debut novel, Lottery. Then Tania Herschman, fellow member of the Bookarazzi author group, was one of two writers commended in the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers.

Monique Roffey

Last year I was invited to a book signing at a local store. The author in question was Monique Roffey and the book The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. I was unable to attend the signing but the title intrigued me so I did a bit of research and found that the author is a Trinidadian who resides in the UK, and the novel is set here in Trinidad. I was delighted to discover that Ms. Roffey's novel made it to the long list for the Orange Prize this year. Andrea Levy, author of Small Island, made it to the list again this year with The Long Song. Ms. Levy also boasts Caribbean roots and already has two Oranges, among other major prizes, under her belt. A good year, I opine.

Andrea Levy

So where are the lemons in this, you might be wondering. Well, to judge by discussions I've read on two excellent book blogs, The Miami Herald's Between the Covers and Chauncey Mabe's Open Page for the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, the women-only rule for the Orange Prize is coming under fire. It seems that some men out there don't think it's relevant any longer.

I'll be succinct here, gentlemen: you're wrong. I wish gender didn't matter. I really do. Good writing is good writing, right? However, fifteen years of Orange Prize awards cannot even begin to correct the centuries of gender imbalance in awarding major literary prizes. That's just my opinion. Dan Powell makes a good case for the other side here. I'm not convinced, though. Feel free to try and change my mind.


Chris Stovell said...

I would like to think that good writing is good writing and will out anyway, but there is a certain attitude to fiction written by women which still persists. The Orange Prize highlights the quality and variety of women writers' work which can only be a good thing.

Debs said...

I think that women's writing can be overlooked when it comes to literary competitions, so the Orange Prize can only be a good thing.

Phyllis Bourne said...

Any kind of prize or recognition for a writer is a good thing. It's a lonely job with few accolades.

I'd never heard of the Orange prize, but definitely want to check out some of the winner's books.