Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015 Longlist Revealed

11th Mar 2015

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015 Longlist Revealed
As a fresh crop of writers begins vying for the prize, Shami Chakrabarti leads the charge for awards for women's writing.

It’s that time of year again; the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist of nominees has been announced, with 20 women writers in the running for the £30,000 award. This year however we have some refreshing candour along with the celebrations from chair of judges Shami Chakrabarti.

The civil liberties campaigner and Director of Liberty has rounded on criticism of the need for a women-only award, saying that “We are still nowhere near where we should be” when it comes to recognition for women in literature. “I also don’t think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s time to end a women’s prize.”

An analysis by the Guardian certainly bears this out, as since the Baileys Prize’s inauguration in 1996, there have been just seven women winners of the Man Booker prize, (the 1991 all-male shortlist of which was the inspiration for the creation of the Baileys prize) to twelve men. The track record of the Booker shortlists is even worse, revealing only 25% of authors included since 1996 have been women.

"Literature ought to be further on than it is, given how long women have been writing brilliant stuff...there's an ocean of talent to be discussed and shared and celebrated, and this is one way of doing it." So it would seem gender bias is still alive and well in judging panels, which, if you’re reading For Book’s Sake, will not surprise you, but Chakrabarti’s conviction that celebrating women’s writing is still vital is a welcome inspiration. She calls gender injustice “the greatest human rights violation in the world…it’s global in reach and millennial in duration. It’s certainly not a time to be doing anything less.”

So who have the judges selected? There is certainly a mix of smaller names and well-established authors, with five debut novels selected including Emma Healey‘s Elizabeth is Missing and PP Wong‘s The Life of a Banana (from tiny publishing house Legend Press) alongside writing veterans Ali Smith, Sarah Waters and Anne Tyler, whose entry A Spool of Blue Thread marks the 20th novel from the American author.

The list is still dominated by British and American writers, so diversity in terms of nationality, gender identity and sexual orientation could obviously be improved. We’re also expectant that the same high-flyers such as Smith and Healey might breeze onto the shortlist. But with so much verve and vitriol from Chakrabarti, and presumably the other judges Laura Bates; Grace Dent, Helen Dunmore and Cathy Newman, we’re certainly fired up for the shortlist unveiling on April 13th.

“Literature ought to be further on than it is, given how long women have been writing brilliant stuff…there’s an ocean of talent to be discussed and shared and celebrated, and this is one way of doing it.” We agree Shami; if next time we could plumb those depths a little deeper for diversity, then all the better.

Good luck to all the nominees!

The list in full:

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart

Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?

Xiaolu Guo: I Am China

Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Grace McCleen: The Offering

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

Heather O’Neill: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Laline Paull: The Bees

Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights

Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

Ali Smith: How to be Both

Sara Taylor: The Shore

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Jemma Wayne: After Before

PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

Who would you like to see on the shorlist? What books do you think the Baileys panel missed?