Brit Bennett, Susanna Clarke and Yaa Gyasi are amongst those shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, with Patricia Lockwood, Claire Fuller and Cherie Jones completing the list.
Now in its 26th year, the annual £30,000 Women's Prize for Fiction supports “outstanding, ambitious, original fiction” written in English by women anywhere in the world, with a judging panel chaired by Booker-winning author Bernardine Evaristo. The 2021 shortlist features two British writers, two American, one Barbadian and one Ghanaian-American author. None of them have been shortlisted before.
Los Angeles-based Bennett is nominated for her second novel, The Vanishing Half (Dialogue Books), which follows twin sisters. It was described by judges as “a beautifully written novel and psychologically very complex”.
Fellow American Patricia Lockwood has also made the cut for her debut No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus), a novel about the clash of real life and online personas described as “very moving and profoundly insightful into human nature”. Bloomsbury has another nod for Piranesi, Clarke’s long-awaited second novel about a watery labyrinth, which came 16 years after her bestselling debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Bloomsbury). Piranesi was described by judges as an “utterly transporting” novel which introduces “a fascinating universe”.
The other British offering on the six-strong shortlist comes from Claire Fuller for Unsettled Ground (Fig Tree), her fourth novel, about twins recovering from their mother’s unexpected death. Judges deemed it “a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power”.
Also shortlisted is Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi with Transcendent Kingdom (Penguin), about one woman's exploration of her family's experience of immigration from Ghana to Alabama “through continents and generations that take her deep into the dark heart of modern America”.
Finally Cherie Jones completes the list for How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House (Tinder Press). The Barbadian author is a practising lawyer based in Barbados and has spent some years living in the UK, studying Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University in 2015. Judges described the novel as “a tale of violence, loss and love in Barbados, seen through four very vivid voices”.
The six books were whittled down from an original longlist of 16 which had included Torrey Peters as the first trans woman nominated for the award, for Detransition, Baby (Serpent's Tail), as well as actress Dawn French’s Because of You (Michael Joseph).
Evaristo was joined on the judging panel (pictured left) by podcaster and writer Elizabeth Day, broadcaster and author Vick Hope, writer Nesrine Malik and presenter Sarah-Jane Mee.
“Coming up with a longlist of 16 books for this prize was relatively easy compared to whittling the selection down to six novels, which by necessity demands more consensus,” Evaristo said. “Sadly, we had to lose so many exceptional books that we loved. However, with this shortlist, we are excited to present a gloriously varied and thematically rich exploration of women’s fiction at its finest. These novels will take the reader from a rural Britain left behind to the underbelly of a community in Barbados; from inside the hectic performance of social media to inside a family beset by addiction and oppression; from a tale of racial hierarchy in America to a mind-expanding tale of altered perceptions.”
She added: “Fiction by women defies easy categorisation or stereotyping, and all of these novels grapple with society’s big issues expressed through thrilling storytelling. We feel passionate about them, and we hope readers do too.”
The Women’s Prize will be hosting a ‘Virtual Shortlist Festival’ between 14th–16th June featuring the shortlisted authors with readings from actors, hosted by prize founder and director Kate Mosse. Tickets can be bought through Eventbrite.
The winner will be awarded on 7th July at an evening awards ceremony in central London. She will receive an anonymously endowed cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze figurine known as a ‘Bessie’, created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven.
For more information, visit womensprizeforfiction.co.uk.
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