[The JRB Daily] Longlist announced for 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, including Ghanaian–American novelist Yaa Gyasi

The longlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced, including Ghanaian–American novelist Yaa Gyasi. 

Gyasi has been longlisted for her novel Transcendent Kingdom, the follow-up to her internationally bestselling debut Homegoing, which was published in 2016.

Also on the list this year is Amanda Craig, a British novelist who was born in South Africa and grew up in Italy before moving to London. Craig is longlisted for The Golden Rule, which the judges described as a ‘thrilling, rollicking, scorching’ novel.

Chair of judges and novelist Bernardine Evaristo says:

‘We read so many brilliant novels for this year’s prize and had an energetic judging session where we discussed our passions, opinions and preferences. Sadly, we had to let some very deserving books go but we’re confident that we have chosen sixteen standout novels that represent a truly wide and varied range of fiction by women that reflects multiple perspectives, narrative styles and preoccupations. 

‘These novels fascinated, moved, inspired and challenged us and we’re excited at announcing their inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist.’

For the first time this year a trans woman has been nominated for the prize: American author Torrey Peters, who makes the list with her acclaimed debut Detransition, Baby.

The nomination is significant, coming as it does in the wake of some controversy. Akwaeke Emezi, who became the first non-binary trans author to be nominated for the Women’s Prize in 2019, for their debut novel Freshwater, said in October 2020 that that they would not allow their future novels be entered for the award, as rules required information on an author’s sex as defined ‘by law’.

Organisers quickly moved to clarify that the prize was open to ‘full-length novels written in English by all women’, and that in the prize terms and conditions the word ‘woman’ equates to ‘any cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex’, with chair of judges and author Bernardine Evaristo commenting at the time: ‘It’s a prize for women, and trans women are women, so …’ 

Commenting on her nomination, Peters acknowledged Emezi’s stand, tweeting: ‘I was eligible this year due to work by those before me—especially Akwaeke Emezi.

‘Once again, I am indebted to a sacrifice made by a Black trans person. Congratulations to my fellow longlisters.’

It’s a list of contrasts this year, with former winner Ali Smith nominated for the final book in her literary seasonal quartet, Summer, up against comedian-turned-novelist Dawn French, who is longlisted for Because of You, described by the judges as a ‘warm, compassionate, funny’ look at motherhood.

‘The women’s prize is for women’s fiction. 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,’ Evaristo told The Guardian.

2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist

  • Because of You by Dawn French
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon
  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
  • Luster by Raven Leilani
  • No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
  • Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
  • Summer by Ali Smith
  • The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Evaristo is joined on the judging panel by podcaster, author and journalist Elizabeth Day; TV and radio presenter, journalist and writer Vick Hope; print columnist and writer Nesrine Malik; and news presenter and broadcaster Sarah-Jane Mee.

The judging panel will next announce a shortlist of six novels, on 28 April 2021. The winner will be announced on 7 July. 

Last year’s Women’s Prize winner was Maggie O’Farrell, for her novel Hamnet.

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