Mslexia, the magazine for women writers, has appointed a panel of Leone Ross and Sunny Singh to judge its Short Story Competition to replace Lionel Shriver following her controversial comments about marginalised writers.
Ross is a novelist, short story writer, journalist and creative writing tutor and Singh is a novelist, journalist, creative writing tutor, as well as chair of the Author’s Club and co-founder of the Jhalak Prize for BAME literature.
The new judges were appointed after Shriver was dismissed from the panel last month, following her comments in a widely-criticised Spectator article about how Penguin Random House's voluntary inclusion tracker could jeopardise "literary excellence". Her views were also condemned by PRH's Write Now mentorship participants in an open letter.
Mslexia editor Debbie Taylor said: "We were overwhelmed by messages of support for our decision and a number of prominent literary figures were approached to take on the judging role.
"Mslexia’s competitions are always assessed anonymously, so there can be no bias during judging. But we know from years of research with women writers that marginalisation takes place much earlier in the process, when they are working on their manuscripts and wondering whether they are good enough to submit. It’s at this point that we felt Shriver’s comments might undermine confidence."
Singh said: "I feel honoured and privileged to be part of such a distinguished panel and look forward to discovering great new writing."
Ross also spoke of her delight at being "in the company of these two special women", adding that "there are nearly 80 years of expertise here". To the potential entrants of the competition, she said: "Be honest, be tender, be brave and open. Don’t apologise or hold back. Let your language sing, crackle and burn."
Mslexia’s Short Story Competition offers a first prize of £5,000, making it one of the most lucrative competitions in the UK for unpublished short stories. It is supported by Arts Council England as part of a portfolio of activities celebrating Mslexia’s 20th Anniversary in March 2019.
An earlier version of this story reported that Cathy Galvin, founder of the Word Factory, had been enlisted as a third judge, but she has since withdrawn from the role.