Torrey Peters has become the first trans woman nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction, joining former winner Ali Smith, comedian Dawn French and a host of debut novelists on the longlist.
Peters was picked by judges for Detransition, Baby (Serpent's Tail), described by judge Elizabeth Day as a “modern comedy of manners viewed through the lens of three women, both trans and cis”.
Her appearance on the 16-book longlist followed a clarification by organisers last year that eligibility for the prize extends to "all women" where a woman is defined as "a cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex". It came 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" .
Now in its 26th year, the annual £30,000 Women's Prize for Fiction aims to shine a spotlight on “outstanding, ambitious, original fiction” written in English by women anywhere in the world. The 2021 longlist, chosen by a judging panel chaired by Bernardine Evaristo, includes six British authors, five Americans and two Irish writers alongside a Canadian, Barbadian and Ghanaian/American novelist.
Smith is picked for her “witty, inventive, playful, probing” final novel revolving around the seasons, Summer (Hamish Hamilton). The writer won the prize in 2015 for How to be Both and has been shortlisted twice with Hotel World and The Accidental, also picking up another longlist nomination in 2012 with There But For The, all published by Hamish Hamilton.
French is chosen for her fourth novel, Because of You (Michael Joseph), described by Evaristo as “a warm, compassionate, funny novel which looks at motherhood and also challenges assumptions about the maternal bond”.
Peters' book is one of six debut novels on the longlist, joining Naoise Dolan for her “taut, gripping” Exciting Times (W&N) and Raven Leilani's Luster (Picador), the story of a young Black woman pulled into the lives of a white suburban family. Avni Doshi also appears with her Booker-shortlisted story of a toxic mother daughter relationship Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton) alongside the “moving and profoundly insightful” No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus). How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House (Tinder Press) by Cherie Jones, a tale of violence, loss and love in Barbados, also made the cut
Susanna Clarke makes the list with her long-awaited and “utterly transporting” Piranesi (Bloomsbury), while there is also a nod for 2010 longlistee Amanda Craig with her “thrilling, rollicking scorching state of the nation novel” The Golden Rule (Little, Brown).
Brit Bennett is picked for her “beautifully written” tale of twin sisters The Vanishing Half (Dialogue) and is joined by Yaa Gyasi with her second novel Transcendent Kingdom (Viking) which follows main character Gifty as she traces her family's story through continents and generations.
Also in with a shout is Clare Chambers with Small Pleasures (W&N), about a local journalist who covers a story where a woman claims to have been a virgin when she gave birth to her daughter, and Claire Fuller with Unsettled Ground (Fig Tree), the tale of 50-year-old twins who live with their mother and what happens when she dies unexpectedly.
Canadian writer Annabel Lyon is chosen for her tale of sisters and their relationships Consent (Atlantic) while Kathleen McMahon's Nothing But Blue Sky (Sandycove Press), the story of a widower who examines his relationship with his dead wife and their 20-year marriage, completes the longlist.
Evaristo said: “We read so many brilliant novels for this year’s prize and had an energetic judging session where we discussed our passions, opinions and preferences. Sadly, we had to let some very deserving books go but we’re confident that we have chosen 16 standout novels that represent a truly wide and varied range of fiction by women that reflects multiple perspectives, narrative styles and preoccupations. These novels fascinated, moved, inspired and challenged us and we’re excited at announcing their inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist.”
Evaristo is joined on the judging panel by podcaster, author and journalist Elizabeth Day, TV and radio presenter Vick Hope, print columnist and writer Nesrine Malik, and news presenter Sarah-Jane Mee.
This year's six-book shortlist will be announced on 28th April before a final winner is crowned at a 7th July awards ceremony in central London. Alongside an anonymously endowed cheque for £30,000, the winner receives a limited edition bronze figurine known as a “Bessie”, created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven.