Only 5 Women on All-White 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize Longlist

6th Sep 2013

Mary Beard
Judges fail to put together a 50/50 list, then sort of apologise and make it even worse.

Well cheers, 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize For Non-Fiction judges. Just as we were in a cosy glow of happiness about the Booker and Guardian First Book Award longlists showing women writers some respect by, y’know, reflecting our place as just over 50% of the population, you go and announce a longlist of eighteen on which women get a meagre five places and writers of colour get sod all.

Non-fiction has perhaps always been a traditionally difficult realm for women to get recognition in, so we guess we should be thanking you for finding five  – and our congratulations do go out to Charlotte Higgins,  Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, Margaret Macmillan and Harriet Tuckey.

But for lovely Mary Beard, of all people, to write a blog about the judging process saying that you guys all did try to be “gender aware” but that it was “impossible not to reflect whether there are (with some obvious and notable exceptions) different male and female styles in non-fiction, and whether it is the male style that seems to tick more of the “prize-winner boxes”” – seriously?

You see, what you’ve done there is go half way to an apology that you couldn’t find more women, and then back out by blaming it on us for our apparent non-box ticking style. Come on!

For a prize which motto is “the best stories are true”, you seem to be taking a pretty shoddy attitude to the truth:  1) there are plenty of brilliant, non-fiction books written by women, more than enough for us to have a 50/50 split on that list, 2) There’s not one damn shred of evidence which points to us writing less pleasingly than the guys, 3) Non-white people write non-fiction too.

We know you’re named after a dead white Tory, but really: get with the times.


  • Beulah Devaney says:

    This is ridiculous. In her blog Beard says “the male style that seems to tick more of the “prize-winner boxes”” like this is actually down to some predetermined masculine style and not the judges personal prejudices!

  • MarinaS says:

    Mary Beard is a not-entirely-uncontroversial figure among British feminists for a reason. Yes she copped some sexist abuse recently, and dealt with it very nicely, but she’s still basically a conservative member of a tiny white elite.