The shortlist for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced.
The prize, now in its twenty-fifth year, aims to reward ‘excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from throughout the world’. It is awarded annually to a woman author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English, and published in the United Kingdom in the preceding year.
The winning author receives £30,000 (about R700,000) and a limited edition bronze figurine called the ‘Bessie’, both anonymously endowed. The winner and the other five shortlisted authors also receive a bespoke leather-bound edition of their novel.
Because of the current coronavirus pandemic, the judges had to meet and select the shortlist via video conferencing, which chair of judges Martha Lane Fox admits caused some tension: ‘But we got there, we’re all still great friends and I think we’re all very proud of this list.’
2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist
- Dominicana by Angie Cruz
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
- Weather by Jenny Offill
The inspiration for the Women’s Prize—previously known as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and then the Orange Prize for Fiction—came about after the 1991 Booker Prize, when none of the six shortlisted books was by a woman, despite roughly sixty per cent of eligible novels published that year being by women authors. Research showed that women’s literary achievements were often not acknowledged by existing major literary prizes.
Kate Mosse, author and founder and director of the prize, said in the online shortlist announcement: ‘When we were setting up the prize, twenty-five years ago, our goal was the same then as it is now, to celebrate and honour exceptional, fantastic, brilliant, beautiful, original books written by women in English from all over the world, to support and amplify a diverse range of women’s voices, and to put the classics of tomorrow in the hands of readers today.
‘Novels are the thing that connects us together. We can’t be in the same space at the moment, but if we read the same books and we share them, pass them on, virtual hand by virtual hand, we can all still enjoy the incredible books that are on the longlist and the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.’
Lane Fox said: ‘We are all living in challenging, sad and complex times so incredible stories provide hope, a moment of escape and a point of connection now more than ever. Choosing the shortlist was tough—we went slowly and carefully and passions ran high—just as you would want in such a process. But we are all so proud of these books—all readers will find solace if they pick one up.’
Joining Lane Fox on the 2020 judging panel are writer and activist Scarlett Curtis; writer and activist Melanie Eusebe; co-founder of the Black British Business Awards, author, and comedian Viv Groskop; and Paula Hawkins, international bestselling author of The Girl on the Train.
The announcement of the winner has been postponed from June, and will now take place on Wednesday, 9 September, 2020.
To celebrate the prize’s twenty-fifth anniversary this year, a digital book club, #ReadingWomen, has been launched, which will tackle each previous winner, from Helen Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter, which won in 1996, to An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which won last year. A public vote will choose the ‘winner of winners’.
Watch the online announcement here: