Ali Smith has won the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction with How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton).
Smith was announced as the 20th winner of the £30,000 prize this evening (3rd June) at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, London, hosted by broadcaster, author and DJ Lauren Laverne. Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty director and chair of this year’s judging panel, said the book was a “tender, brilliant and witty novel of grief, love, sexuality and shape-shifting identity”.
Smith’s novel is a dual narrative, with one half following a child of a child of the 1960s, and the other a renaissance artist of the 1460s.
The book has been printed in two versions, one with the renaissance section followed by the modern section, and the other the opposite way round.
“How to be Both is a wonderful juxtaposition between ancient and modern, the particular and the universal,” Chakrabarti told The Bookseller. “I think it is particularly accessible if you start with the modern story first. If you read both stories they do resonate and connect. There is universal stuff there about grief and loss and gender, but also contemporary stuff about surveillance and pornography and technology. There is so much about how we live now, but also about the human condition."
She added: "I have no doubt this book will be read in 100 years time. I think Ali Smith is a truly phenomenal writer.”
Smith's novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014, but lost out to Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus). She was also on the shortlist for this year’s Folio Prize, which was won by Akhil Sharma’s Family Life.
However How to be Both won the £10,000 Goldsmiths Award, and the Literary Book of the Year prize at the Saltire Literary Awards.
It also won the Costa Novel Award 2014, although lost out in the overall Costa Book of the Year to Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape).
This is the second time Smith has been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. In 2001 she was shortlisted for the prize, then known as the Orange Prize, for her novel Hotel World (Penguin Books).
Smith’s How to be Both beat five other titles for this year’s award – Rachel Cusk’s Outline (originally published by Faber & Faber and published in paperback by Vintage), Laline Paull’s The Bees (Fourth Estate), Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury), Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus), and Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests (Virago).
Research by English American writer Nicola Griffith recently found that books written by women or men from the perspective of a female character are less likely to win major literary awards than books written from a male perspective or about men. “This prize is not just about celebrating women writers,” said Chakrabarti. “Their stories need to be revealed and celebrated as well. Women are great readers. Why shouldn’t they have the benefit of being introduced to their own experience and those of other women?”
This is the second year the prize has been sponsored by Baileys. Among this year’s initiatives have been #ThisBookClub, a campaign to encourage people to recommend books by women to others, and a partnership with clothes shop Whistles.
Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Baileys’ parent company Diageo, said: “Congratulations to Ali Smith whose winning novel How to Be Both reflects the brilliance and originality that the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction proudly celebrates. This year's shortlist showcased an outstanding variety of female talent and Baileys is passionate about working with the Prize to share their extraordinary works with more people than ever before. Ali follows in the footsteps of 19 brave and talented Women's Prize winners, and she is an inspiration for aspiring female writers all over the world.”
The novelist Kate Mosse, co-founder of the prize, said: “In this, our 20th year, it is wonderful to see our partnership with Baileys going from strength to strength. Our retail and media partnerships in 2015 have been hugely successful in promoting outstanding fiction by women to an even wider range of readers, both in the UK and throughout the world.”
How to be Both has sold 34,219 copies through Nielsen BookScan to date, for a value of £368,977.
In addition to the £30,000, Smith wins a limited edition bronze figurine called Bessie. Both prizes are anonymously endowed.
Joining Chakrabarti on the judging panel this year were Laura Bates, writer and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project; columnist and broadcaster Grace Dent; novelist, poet and winner of the inaugural Women’s Prize, Helen Dunmore; and Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman.