April 8, 2014

Could U.S. writers take both the Folio and the Baileys Prize in 2014?


The Baileys long list for 2014.

The Baileys longlist for 2014.

The shortlist for the Baileys Prizeformerly the Orange Prize, honoring fiction by women—was released yesterday, and it’s a strong crop. Three (THREE!) debut writers made the cut alongside heavy hitters Donna Tartt, Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Jon Howells of Waterstones told The Guardian the shortlist has a “great scope of style, nationality; small publishers and giants; debut authors and established ones. The judges have hit a perfect balance, six novels of inarguable quality.”

The shortlist includes:

Americanah by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Oddly, there are no British writers on this year’s shortlist. Four made the longlist, down from seven last year (and eight the year before that).

“I think this is part of a larger trend and I think we’ll see the Man Booker list reflect this inequity as well,” said associate professor David Brauner of Reading University in conversation with The Guardian. “Contemporary American fiction is much more exciting and diverse and vibrant than British fiction, particularly English fiction. It has been the case for some time and I can only see the trend exacerbating – the gulf is becoming greater and greater.

“Oddly, I think the best British writers recognise the superiority of their American counterparts but seem unable to emulate in their own work what they admire.”

Brauner goes on to say that universities could be to blame for what he believes is the stale character of British fiction. If writers in the UK want to have their own MFA vs. NYC debate, they can hash this out on the other side of the ocean. (Leave us out of it!)

Judge Helen Fraser counters, “This has always been a very international prize. I think it’s just that every year brings a different crop of books.”

If Tartt wins the Baileys Prize, it will be the sixth consecutive year that Americans have gone home with the Orange-Women’s-Bailey’s Prize. Now that the Man Booker Prize is open to authors in the States, the newly-created Folio Prize (open to ) went to American author George Saunders, I wouldn’t blame authors and readers in the UK for feeling short-changed this year.

The bookies at William Hill have given Tartt 2/1 odds, followed by Adichie at 3/1. Adichie’s odds are lower because she already won the Orange Prize in 2007 for Half of a Yellow Sun.

Each of the authors on the shortlist will receive a leather-bound edition of her book. The winner will be awarded £30,000 and a bronze sculpture (“the Bessie”) in London on June 4.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.