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Lush Library Presents... The Women's Prize 2018 Shortlisted Authors

The Women's Prize celebrates originality and accessibility in women’s writing from around the world. The winner of this year's prize is being announced on June 6, 2018. Author, journalist, and Lush Book Club host Anna James asks five of the six shortlisted authors about their work, and what being on the shortlist means to them.

 

 

Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing

 

How would you describe your ideal reader for your book?

I hope for a wide readership. I’d guess most writers do. But I really want to reach people who don’t often see themselves in literature. I want them to know that they are as beautiful and loving and worthy of being written about as anyone else.

 

Which previous winner or shortlisted book has had the biggest impact on you as a writer or a reader?

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. She gave a talk at the University of Michigan after Bel Canto became a phenomenon around fifteen years ago, and she said something that has remained with me since: she said that writers tend to be obsessed with and write about the same themes over and over, in book after book. I see this bearing out in her work, and I see that same tendency bearing out in my work as well.

 

Why is the Women's Prize important?  

We don’t have a women’s prize in the United States, which is a shame. In the not-so-distant past, and even into the present, what was thought to be the default setting for “writer” (or senator or CEO or doctor…) was a white male. There are a lot of other voices out here, and to take a minute to celebrate those voices, diverse women’s voices, is a wonderful thing.

 

 

Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire

 

How would you describe your ideal reader for your book?

I come to this as a reader not a writer. In the course of my life I have read books which I’ve fallen in love with. It’s one of the great experiences of life, that moment of picking up something that is fictional and often bears little direct relationship to your experiences, and yet something in it simply reaches out and grabs hold of you. My ideal reader could be of any age or nation or gender or vocation - but if they experience that falling in love sensation with my work...well, what could be more ideal?

 

Which previous winner or shortlisted book has had the biggest impact on you as a writer or a reader?

Every Ali Smith book is a joy, but even for someone who has been waiting impatiently for every one of her books almost from the start of her publishing life, ‘How to be both’ was a surprise in its inventiveness,  its seriousness and its playfulness. To have in the world a writer who keeps raising the bar for her own writing is the most useful thing for other writers - it’s hard to get complacent or think you can rest on any laurels when Ali Smith is out there, writing better and better.

 

Why is the Women's Prize important?

It’s a prize that has changed the literary culture, has done more to shift the gender imbalances in publishing than any other initiative I know of. So there’s that.  But speaking as someone who has been shortlisted before I know how much it does to bring long- and shortlisted and winning books to the attention of readers - for any writer that’s invaluable.  

 

Meena Kandasamy, author of When I Hit You

 

How would you describe your ideal reader for your book?

This time, I really thought I was writing to another woman (nameless/faceless) across space/time/language--that is why the work has this sense of urgency and sharing like meeting a once-upon-a-time best friend after ages.

 

Which previous winner or shortlisted book has had the biggest impact on you as a writer or a reader?

It is so difficult to pick, but if I have to choose just one it is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie.

 

Why is the Women's Prize important?

One, because the literary world---as marvellous and talented as it is--is also hugely male-dominated. Two, because in seeking to right the wrongs of the male establishment, the women's prize consistently comes up with diverse shortlists and you are introduced to books that would have otherwise got lost in the marketing hype. And the Women's Prize often seems like a risk-taker: Eimear McBride, Ali Smith--so many winners have written experimental fiction and to see women's creativity rewarded in that way is great.

 

Jessie Greengrass, author of Sight

 

How would you describe your ideal reader for your book?

I really struggle to imagine any readers of my work at all! It feels like such a strange thing, still, when there are so many wonderful books in the world, that anyone should choose to read mine. I suppose really this is a way of saying that I what I try and do is write a book that I would like to find existed, rather than one which I think anyone else would want to read. It's a very individual thing, but that's what I feel is the most honest way for me to go about it.

 

Which previous winner or shortlisted book has had the biggest impact on you as a writer or a reader?

I have such strong memories of reading both Margaret Atwood and Annie Proulx as a teenager, and feeling that I was encountering work that was lucid- enjoyable- and which said something important to me. Later, reading Hilary Mantel, I felt like I was seeing someone find their way towards a new way of writing, and I often think of that- that it seems to me as though she has been picking her way forward, getting better and better across the whole span of her career- when I feel as though everything I do has to be absolutely perfect. Of course that isn't true, and there is always learning and discovery to be done.

 

Why is the Women's Prize important?

For a long time I didn't really think I could be a writer. Although I'd read books by so many tremendous women- the ones mentioned above but also earlier writers, people who seemed to have become rather forgotten, like Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Bowen, F.M. Mayor, even Stevie Smith, who wrote one poem everyone remembers and three novels that no one does- and although I had loved them, and found so much to learn in them, I had this persistent background impression that in some way I couldn't put my finger on they were all judged to be a little bit second eleven. Not important or weighty enough to be first rate. I felt the same way about myself- that anything I did would necessarily be a bit on the slight side, because my thoughts and experiences were slight. It wasn't until much later that I realised that what I had been taught to think of as "weight" was really masculinity. A particular kind of confidence, probably- the certainty that anything one says is worth saying. To lack that is to be different, certainly, but not to be lesser. We all need to keep remembering this (myself as much as anyone, because internalised misogyny is a persistent and hard to treat condition), and this is why the Women's Prize is important- because unless we keep making ourselves look at this work then it will tend to slide out of view. Standing in a bookshop, faced with the choice between two new novels, we'll choose one without quite knowing why, and it will only be much later that we'll notice how many of the books on our shelves are by men.

 

Imogen Hermes-Gowar, author of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

 

How would you describe your ideal reader for your book?

Somebody who isn't averse to a bit of smut with their history.

 

Which previous winner or shortlisted book has had the biggest impact on you as a writer or a reader?

I discovered Ali Smith via Hotel World and then devoured The Accidental, full of admiration and excitement. As a reader, Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace felt like a gift just for me, but as a writer it also inspired me to think hard about what is achievable in historical fiction. Of the recent nominees, First Love chilled and transfixed me. It takes such boldness to not only identify but to verbalise the relationships and feelings Gwendoline Riley does in that book.

 

Why is the Women's Prize important?

It's getting better, but 'the canon' is still very male. To have an award where femaleness is the neutral, rather than notable, seems really important. It's good, sometimes, to be met on our own terms.

 

Anna has previously given her thoughts on The Women's Prize Longlist here

"To have an award where femaleness is the neutral, rather than notable, seems really important."

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