September 12, 2018

New women’s writing prizes launched to address The Great Gender Imbalance


Picture a philosopher and perhaps you conjure up an image of a beardy old man ponderously stroking his whiskers. Google ‘most famous philosophers’ and you’ll be bombarded with a barrage of men. Because women can’t convey such complex thoughts coherently now, can they? And, while we’re on the failings of the fairer sex, women can’t be funny either, surely? We suffer from a Goldilocks complex: too serious is no good but neither is too funny.

It might be amusing if it wasn’t so hideously bought into – in this instance – in the literary world. Enter two female authors and TV personalities who want to make a difference.

Kate Jegede, TV presenter and author of Infinite Possibility: How to Use the Ideas of Neville Goddard to Create the Life You Want wants to help give female authors a platform to break into philosophical writing by launching the Thinking Woman’s Writing Award. It aims to increase the visibility of women writing non-fiction works with a philosophical or critical thinking theme. Jegebe told Natasha Onwuemezi at The Bookseller:

“It is about helping those with ideas who want to write about them to create books that are powerful, inspiration but above all are of a high standard. A well-written book with the power to inspire can open the doors of the imagination of millions and so I am calling on women writers to step on stage, share their stories, and become part of a new radical community of philosophers making the world a better place.”

Submissions open on Friday 14th September and close on 19th October.

Actress and comedian Helen Lederer, perhaps best known for her role in British comedy series Absolutely Fabulous has recently set up The Comedy Women In Print prize (CWIP). This was partly in response to the fact that the UK’s foremost award celebrating comedic writing, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize, has only been won by three female authors in eighteen years. We wrote about Marian Keyes’s response to this (“I think by giving the men the prizes, it just reinforces that the men are more important”) and fact that no-one won the prize this year because no books “incited the level of unanimous laughter we have come to expect” back in June. Keyes is now one of the judges for the CWIP, along with novelist and senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Hertfordshire, Jennifer Young. Young told Alison Flood at the Guardian:

 “Women are routinely overlooked for their comedic work, particularly in fiction. As Marian Keyes has pointed out, she’s never been shortlisted for the Wodehouse prize, despite her great success as a writer.

“Women’s writing often struggles to get equal attention to men’s, and if the writing is comedic, the situation becomes even more difficult. We’ve all heard the token woman on Radio 4 comedy programmes – the assumption seems to be that men can be funnier than women. Is it that women should be pretty to look at and pleasant to listen to, rather than using their voices to push boundaries? CWIP sets out to challenge that – and to recognise and celebrate women’s ability to be comedic in many ways.”

The prize, which aims to celebrate the achievements of women and support the diverse voices of the next generation of witty female writers is now open for submissions for the first time, with the longlist due to be announced in March 2019, the shortlist in May and the winners revealed in June.

It’s frustrating we still live in a world where the need for such female-oriented prizes exists to address the greater imbalance in the literary community. The Women’s Prize for Fiction was set up in 1996 in response to the fact that the 1991 The Man Booker Prize shortlist included no women at all and that by 1992, only ten per cent of those shortlisted were women.

Each year VIDA, a New York-based organisation for Women in Literary, counts and analyses the writers featured in dozens of literary journals and periodicals across the world. Last year the findings showed there was bias towards men – around two thirds of authors and reviewers counted were male.

Plus, in April we wrote about the research carried out by sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg and mathematician Adam Kapelner of Queens College-CUNY. They examined published in North America between 2002 and 2012 and found that when it came to mainstream publishing, books written women were on average priced 45% lower than books by men.

Let’s then celebrate women like Jegede and Lederer who are speaking out and aiming to address the need to support talented female authors… because, surprise! Women can be smart and funny. And we shouldn’t have to go to special lengths to get recognition for it.

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.