Canada’s Rosalind Prize seeks to correct gender disparity
by Nick Davies
Canadian publishing industry magazine Quill and Quire reports that, shocked by the imbalance between men and women who win literary prizes, Janice Zawerbny has come up with the idea for an award dedicated to fiction written by Canadian women. The editorial director of Thomas Allen Publishers, Zawerbny got the idea after attending the Vancouver Writers Fest, where a panel discussion between four women—founder of the UK’s Orange Prize Kate Mosse, Canadian author Susan Swan, Australian novelist and professor Gail Jones, and poet Gillian Jerome—inspired her to take action. Quill and Quire credits a post on Swan’s Facebook page with drawing attention to Zawerbny’s idea, and she’s also posted some of the stats on the disparity between men and women in the past few weeks; for example, only 12 of 108 people to win the Nobel Prize are women, and 16 of 46 for the Booker.
Zawerbny expressed shock at the numbers, saying, “I thought things were fine and equal here in Canada. I didn’t realize the disparity until looking at the hard numbers… It was really disheartening. Why is this happening in this day and age? It became the impetus or the rallying cry, sitting in the auditorium.”
She’s decided to call the award the Rosalind Prize, named for the heroine of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, as well as British physicist Rosalind Franklin. Zawernby plans to get in touch with Mosse for advice, since the Orange Prize that she founded awards female novelists writing in English; though it recently lost its sponsorship from the telecommunications company Orange, it’s reportedly been approached with offers from big companies like Apple and Kobo.
Zawerbny says that while she’s received an enormous amount of support about the prospect of the Rosalind, she’s aware of the criticism that it could be harmful to the cause of equality, since it could end up relegating women to a separate category. But she holds that recognizing women’s work in fiction is vitally important, saying that the “backlash shows that there really is a need for this kind of award.” Zawerbny plans to give out the first award in late 2014.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.