Man Booker winner Anna Burns and debut author Oyinkan Braithwaite have made the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.
Retellings of women in history dominate the prize with Troubles-set Milkman by Burns (Faber), Pat Barker’s retelling of The Iliad The Silence of the Girls (Hamish Hamilton), and previous winner Madeline Miller returning to the shortlist with Circe (Bloomsbury), a new take on the witch who seduces Odysseus.
Debut author Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer (Atlantic), Ordinary People by Diana Evans (Chatto & Windus) and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oneworld) complete the shortlist.
Chair of the judges professor Kate Williams said: “It’s a fantastic shortlist; exciting, vibrant, adventurous. We fell totally in love with these books and the amazing worlds they created. These books are fiction at its best – brilliant, courageous and utterly captivating.”
Sally Rooney’s Normal People (Faber) did not make the shortlist, nor did the first non-binary author to be nominated for the prize Akwaeke Emezi with Freshwater (Faber) after both featured on the 16-strong longlist. The Women's Prize for Fiction has said it is working on a policy around gender fluid, transgender and transgender non-binary writers after featuring Emezi on the longlist.
Half of the six-strong shortlist are represented by Clare Alexander, of Aitken Alexander. She told The Bookseller: "I was involved in starting the Women’s Prize all those years ago and was the editor of the first ever winner of what was then called The Orange Prize (A Spell of Winter [Penguin] by Helen Dunmore). I was also for many years on the Board of the prize, so it holds a very special place in my heart.
"It is thrilling to represent half of the 2019 short list. I have worked with Pat Barker, first as her editor and now as her agent, since the late 80s. Diana Evans became a client in 2003 and Oyinkan Braithwaite is a new client, so it is especially wonderful to see authors who I have worked with throughout my career getting the recognition they so richly deserve."
Man Booker victor Milkman is the top-selling title on the shortlist with 188,273 copies sold in paperback and 5,065 in hardback. My Sister, the Serial Killer is currently lowest overall, with 6,777 copies sold across hardback and trade paperback followed by An American Marriage with 6,786 across all editions (all figures according to Nielsen BookScan).
Journalist and critics Arifa Akbar, author and columnist Dolly Alderton, campaigner and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein and digital entrepreneur Sarah Wood join author and historian Williams on the judging panel.
The winner 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, at an award ceremony in central London on 5th June.