No Duds: Orange Prize Shortlist 2012

The shortlist has been announced for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, the UK-based literary prize for the best book for a woman writer, now in its 17th year.

Contenders are:

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Canada)

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Ireland)

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (UK)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (US)

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (US)

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (US)

Ann Patchett won the prize ten years ago, for Bel Canto, while Anne Enright won the Booker Prize for The Gathering in 2007.

Ann Patchett: She won the Orange Prize ten years ago, for *Bel Canto*

Ann Patchett: She won the Orange Prize ten years ago, for Bel Canto

Enright told the Guardian she is proud to be on the Orange shortlist. ‘It is the friendliest and most forward-looking of all the prizes, constantly bringing new names to our attention and casting older ones in a new light. It gives the bag a shake.’

American Cynthia Ozick is another frontrunner; she turned 84 on the day of the shortlist announcement. Asked whether she minded her age being a topic of discussion, she told the Guardian that while she understands journalists need something to talk about, she does found it mystifying. ‘I think that writers are judged on their work and not on their age, and that seems to me a very simple axiom. I suppose if a writer publishes a novel at the age of 10 it is worth mentioning, but if one is mature it seems rather irrelevant.’

Joanna Trollope, chair of the judges, said, ‘I think this is one of the strongest lists I’ve seen for a literary prize and I’m quite an old hand at them now. It is a list of international standing.’

Of course, she would say that, wouldn’t she? But she’s not alone in thinking so.

‘Pulitzer, please take note’

The decision not to award a fiction prize for the Pulitzer, the US’s most significant national literature prize, was announced just hours before the Orange shortlist.

The Guardian’s Robert McCrum lay the Pulitzer blame with a faulty selection of titles by the fiction jury, who put three titles forward for the Pulitzer board to choose a winner from (Dennis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams, David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia).

‘Respectfully, I suggest that Pulitzer swallows a hefty slice of crow pie and takes home for careful study the Orange prize playbook,’ he said.

‘This UK-based, but globally significant award is not yet as ancient or distinguished as the Pulitzer, but the people who run Orange take a great deal of care – this year’s shortlist is a model – to ensure that their nominations include six new fictions of distinction, by writers who are likely to show form over many years.’

‘Look at the list of Orange winners and you will see that, not only are there no duds, there are, among the runners-up, several writers who have already achieved greatness. Pulitzer, please take note.’

Kate Grenville: The Idea of the Orange Prize

Kate Grenville, the Australian author who won the Orange Prize for The Idea of Perfection in 2001, says that the win changed her life.

’I won it for The Idea of Perfection, a book that wasn’t shortlisted for a single important Australian prize. As a result, sales were dismal. A year later, it won what was then Britain’s richest literary prize. Suddenly everyone was reading it and assuring each other that they’d always known what a great book it was. It was the same book it had always been, but now it had the stamp of approval – a big prize.’

‘Because of the Orange Prize, my next book was taken very seriously by publishers. Instead of trailing cap in hand from publisher to publisher, I had the delightful experience of them courting me. When The Secret River appeared, readers of all sexes read it … It’s sold 200,000 copies in Australia alone. It was what publishers call my ‘breakout’ book. In my case, this meant ‘breaking out’ of the stereotype of ‘women’s books’. Paradoxically, a prize for women has freed my books from the ghetto of ‘women’s writing’.

Grenville is a strong supporter (and official ambassador) of The Stella Prize, an Australian equivalent to the Orange Prize, which will annually reward the best book in any genre by an Australian woman writer each year. Organisers hope to have the prize up and running soon.

You can find out more about The Stella Prize here.

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