It’s International Women’s Day today, and so, as well as celebrating the magnificence of women in general, we shine the spotlight on wonderful women writers. We also look at whether women’s writing is valued as highly as men’s.
The following women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature since it began:
1909 – Selma Lagerof
1991 – Nadine Gordimer
1993 – Toni Morrison
1996 – Wislawa Szymborska
2004 – Elfriede Jelinek
2007 – Doris Lessing
2009 – Herta Müller
2013 – Alice Munro
2015 – Svetlana Alexievich
And these novels written by women won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
1921 – The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
2000 – Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
2005 – Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
2006 – March, Geraldine Brooks
2009 – Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
2011 – A Visit from The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
2014 – Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Women On Top
Great isn’t it? But don’t those lists look rather short for prizes that have been running for a hundred years?
It is notable that there was a gap of 82 years between the first woman winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the next. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction had 79 years between female winners, although the new millennium has seen six female winners in the past sixteen years – which is obviously much better, but still not up to 50%.
So what about the Man Booker Prize? This article points out that “Of the nearly 50 prizes awarded since 1969, only 17 of them have been received by women authors, a mere 34 percent.”
That’s not because the ‘Man’ Booker is for men. The ‘Man’ part is just the sponsor, The Man Group.
Do women write less ‘important’ and ‘prize worthy’ novels? Is it bias in the judging panels, or the judging criteria? One reason could be that many women writers use a female protagonist in their story – it being the sex they are most familiar with. And according to this article, books about women are less likely to win prizes.
Last year, when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, there were no female Nobel Prize winners in any category. This article from the Metro discusses why this could be, making the point:
“We need to change how we’re assessing great work (because evidently, it’s still skewed in favour of men). We need to provide evidence to young girls that their hard work will be recognised and that they’re just as able to achieve big things as boys, so that they know it’s worth trying.”
The Bright Side
Literary prizes are just one side of writing. Sales are as, or more important to most writers, and the good news is, women are topping the list of all time best-sellers in any language. It’s especially good news for British women, with Agatha Christie beating Shakespeare to the top, with sales of between 2 – 4 billion! Now that’s a lot of books. She’s followed by Barbara Cartland at No. 3, Danielle Steel at No. 4 and Enid Blyton and JK Rowling at 8 and 9 respectively.
Let us know what you think about the issues discussed above – and we look forward to reading many more prize-winning and best selling books by women in the years to come. It’s quite likely that some of them will be self-published… by you?