For the first time in the Women’s prize for fiction history, a transwoman has been nominated for the £30,000 ($54,000) award, which has been won by famous writers including Maggie O’Farrell for her novel Hamnet, and Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel, On Beauty.
Torrey Peters, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is nominated for her debut novel Detransition, Baby, which tells the story of three women navigating their relationships in New York City.
Last year, organisers stated that the 25-year old prize was open to any “cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex”.
Prize judge Elizabeth Day described Peters’ book as “a modern comedy of manners”, and it has so far received acclaimed reviews; The New Yorker called it “dishy, engrossing”, The Guardian called it “Witty, elegant and rigorously plotted”.
“The women’s prize is for women’s fiction,” Evaristo said. “It doesn’t say it’s for literary fiction. People sometimes assume that’s what the prize is about, but actually, it’s not, and there are brilliant writers out there who wouldn’t necessarily be classed as literary writers, but they’re really good storytellers.”
Other nominees on the long-list include Dawn French, Ali Smith, Amanda Craig and Susanna Clarke.
“I love the fact that we have Dawn French and Ali Smith, and they both do something very different with their work,” Evaristo added. The 62-year old London-based author also used the opportunity to criticise the lack of entries from women in their 70s and 80s.
“In an ideal world, you want writers who are emerging and you want writers at every stage to continue to have good careers, so what happens when they get into their 70s and 80s?” she asked.
“Is it that they’re suddenly not published, or they’re not submitted for the prizes?” she asked. “I also noticed that there isn’t much experimental writing being published, according to the books that have been submitted for the prize … Maybe publishers are just risk averse.”
Debut novels made up almost half the long-list nominations, including Irish author Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times, Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, which was also short-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize, Patricia Lockwood for her first novel, No One Is Talking About This, and New York writer Raven Leilani for Luster.
“I bang the drum for black British writing, and there’s still not enough of that being published, but it’s a very diverse list so I’m really happy about that,” said Evaristo.
Along with Elizabeth Day and Bernardine Evaristo, judges also include Vick Hope, Nesrine Malik and Sarah-Jane Mee. The shortlist will be announced on 28 April and the winner on 7 July, 2021.
Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal