At the end of this month, the last winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction will be announced. The prize has been around since 1996, and is given to celebrate “excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.” (Orange Prize website) The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze figurine known as a ‘Bessie’, created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven. (What is the value of £30,000 today compared to 1996? Does that mean every year the winner gets less than the year before?)
The prize money comes from an anonymous endowment. That means the mobile services company, Orange, was funding the sponsorship of the prize (promotion, event etc.). Kate Mosse, the co-founder and honorary director of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is confident about finding a replacement sponsor: Interviewed by the Guardian, she said, “It’s very rare for a sponsorship like this to come onto the market – the investment generates something in the region of £17.5 million a year in advertising, and the cultural capital of the women’s prize for fiction is practically second to none. The potential is very exciting. … Over the last few days we’ve started to have informal conversations with companies, and as a result of going on the Today programme this morning to announce the end of Orange’s sponsorship, we’ve had more calls. Of course, I’ll be a happy woman when we’ve signed on the dotted line, but I feel pretty confident that this time next year it’ll be a bigger and better prize just with a different name over the door. Sponsorship is a marriage between the company and the prize, and it’s about finding the perfect match.”
Linda Grant, 2000 winner for When I Lived in Modern Times, explains that while the Orange prize has opened up the literary landscape to new writing, to stories that “existing prizes seemed wilfully to ignore,” the prize’s real value is in the financial support that it gives to writers: “Prizes are a product of a debate between judges sharing a common reading experience over a few months. What winning means is money: not money to buy a diamond ring, but to be able to push aside everything else that interferes with writing books. To give up the day job, say no to journalism or teaching; to see your advance for the next book increase, your foreign rights sales grow; to be translated into other languages.” (Guardian 23 May 2012)
Because the prize is open to fiction books by women from anywhere in the world, it means that Canadian writers have been shortlisted. This year Esi Edugyan has been shortlisted for Half Blood Blues, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2011. Earlier on, Anne Michaels was the winner in 1997 for Fugitive Pieces, with Margaret Atwood on the shortlist for Alias Grace. Margaret Atwood was again selected in 2001 but The Blind Assassin stayed on the shortlist, as did Oryx and Crake in 2004. Carol Shields won in 1998 with Larry’s Party and was shortlisted in 2003 for Unless.
In 2007, Karen Connelly won the Orange Award for New Writers, which ran from 2005 to 2010, for The Lizard Cage. The 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist included two Canadians: Heather O’Neill for Lullabies for Little Criminals and Nancy Huston for Fault Lines. In 2011, Kathleen Winter’s Annabel was shortlisted.
That’s 8 times out of 96 on the shortlists. That’s two Canadian winners for the Orange Prize for Fiction and one for the Award for New writers over 17 years. I know I should be looking not at the numbers but at the quality of the work of Canadian holders of the Orange Prize and how it has evolved. But I don’t have time today because I have a book review to write – something to do with a broken knuckle.
Below is a list of previous winners. For the full list with winners and shortlisted writers, go to the Orange Prize archives site.
Orange Prize for Fiction Winners
2012: The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
2011: The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht
2010: The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
2009: Home, Marilynne Robinson
2008: The Road Home, Rose Tremain
2007: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
2006: On Beauty, Zadie Smith
2005: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver
2004: Small Island, Andrea Levy
2003: Property, Valerie Martin
2002: Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
2001: The Idea of Perfection, Kate Grenville
2000: When I Lived in Modern Times, Linda Grant
1999: A Crime in the Neighbourhood, Suzanne Berne
1998: Larry’s Party, Carol Shields
1997: Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels
1996: A Spell of Winter, Helen Dunmore
- Orange prize saved by private donors after organisers fail to find sponsor (guardian.co.uk)
- Orange Prize for Fiction to be renamed (telegraph.co.uk)
- Donors fund former Orange Prize (bbc.co.uk)