My third and final post from last night’s Women’s Voices panel at Sharjah International Book Fair. (Told you it was inspirational!)
Kate Mosse was one of the people who set up the Orange Prize for Fiction 17 years ago, an award open only to female novellists. The history of the Prize is well-documented, but it was interesting to hear a more personal account of how the prize works.
Kate says they wanted to celebrate women’s voices in fiction, but also felt that it was inappropriate in the modern world that British-based prizes celebrate the voices of British and Commonwealth voices only. Thus the Prize was launched as a global award celebrating works published in English from anywhere in the world.
On the Orange Prize, Kate said:
There was a large amount of criticism when the award was launched. “There was so much criticism, silly criticism like, ‘all the books will be about handbags’. It was belittlingto us. If people are threatened, they will ridicule.
But people started to realise that we were awarding the prize to writers from around the world and that they were really good novels. We know that women read books by men and women, but some men find it difficult to read books by women. We wanted to say to male and female readers: there are some wonderful novels from around the world that you have never heard of, and you will love them.
We are all ourselves as writers. First and foremost we are writers. It’s important to put women’s fiction from around the world on display, so we can say: judge us first as writers.
We are often asked why we don’t have male judges. We always reply: “There are many wonderful men, and when we run out of wonderful women we will start hiring them.”
The Orange Prize is about the importance of women who are writers supporting one another, and the importance of men and women reading writing by women.
Kate also spoke about the importance of translation in literature, particularly how it relates to the Orange Prize.
One of the most exciting things about the Orange Prize that we did not expect was that the winners and shortlisted novels started getting translated into other languages. So it meant that more people would read the books that we think are special.
The Orange Prize currently only accept submissions of novels by women written in English. In response to an audience question about why they do not accept work in translation, Kate said that they considered how to include translations from the start, but it proved a minefield. For example, what if the translation was done by a man, would it still be accepted?
The organising committee therefore tried to set up an Orange Prize for Translation, and create a foreign-langauge shortlist and find publishers to agree to publish the winner in English. However they couldn’t get a publisher on board who would agree to publish the winning novel ‘unseen’, and the logistics of organising the Prize started to create costs that were too unwieldy to bear. However, there is still hope on the translation front. Kate says, “We do not give up on the aim of wanting to include translated works in our prize.”
The concept of the Orange Prize is also starting to be taken up in other parts of the world:
In Australia there is a new award for women in the vein of the Orange Prize, the Stella Prize.
Marcia Lynx Qualey recently blogged that the discussion is happening in her part of the world also: Should there be an Orange Prize for Arab Women Writers?