Women's Prize condemns 'bullying' over Peters nomination

Women's Prize condemns 'bullying' over Peters nomination

The Women's Prize for Fiction has condemned “attempts to malign or bully” its judges or authors, and reiterated its position on trans authors, following publication of an open letter criticising Torrey Peters' appearance on this year's longlist.

Peters made history earlier this year on becoming the first trans woman to make the prize nominations with Detransition, Baby (Serpent's Tail). The book was described by judge Elizabeth Day as a “modern comedy of manners viewed through the lens of three women, both trans and cis”.

This week, a letter from a group called the Wild Woman Writing Club opposing the inclusion of trans women in the prize and criticising the content of Detransition, Baby was widely shared online. The names of several dead authors, including Daphne du Maurier and Emily Dickinson, were included among the signatories.

The letter has led to a backlash, with authors including Elif Shafak defending Peters and fellow nominee Naoise Dolan branding the letter a “transphobic disgrace”.

Yesterday (Wednesday 7th April), the Women's Prize Trust released a statement reiterating its position on including trans authors and denouncing bullying.

It said: “The Women’s Prize for Fiction has always aimed to honour, celebrate and champion women’s voices. We are immensely proud of the exceptional and varied longlist selected by our esteemed judges this year and are fully committed to supporting the books and authors they have chosen. The prize is firmly opposed to any form of discrimination on the basis of race, age, sexuality, gender identity and all other protected characteristics, and deplores any attempts to malign or bully the judges or the authors.

“The prize’s eligibility rules remain unchanged since it was launched 26 years ago: anyone who is legally defined as a woman can be entered for the prize by a publisher. The prize’s terms and conditions are very clear and the word ‘woman’ equates to a cis woman, or a transgender woman who is legally defined as a woman. The Women’s Prize Trust, the charity behind the Women’s Prize for Fiction, is legally bound to gender definitions as set out in law by its charitable articles and the endowment fund from a private donor which supports the prize.”

In a statement on Thursday (8th April) publisher Serpent's Tail thanked the Women's Prize and literary community for supporting its “extraordinarily talented” author. It also thanked bookshops including QueerLit, The Second Shelf and Lighthouse Books for promoting the novel and donating money to trans-led organisations, saying it was now into its third reprinting of the novel.

The press said: “In the past 48 hours we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for Torrey's brilliant, timely and original book. Detransition, Baby is closely concerned with the things cis and trans women have in common and what they can teach one another and it is beautiful to see such heartfelt and thoughtful responses to its message of solidarity. We abhor bullying and personal attacks on writers and are very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to state their support for Torrey, for trans people more generally and to celebrate the vitality of women's writing.”

Last year, Women's Prize organisers were forced to clarify their position after writer Akwaeke Emezi, who identifies as non-binary and was nominated for the 2019 prize, said on social media they would be required by organisers to provide information on their "sex as defined by law".