June 3, 2015

“Women seem to have literary cooties”


Via Shutterstock.

Where are the prizes for great female characters? Via Shutterstock.

Author Nicola Griffith researched fifteen years of literary awards, and she concludes in The Bookseller yesterday that novels written from a female perspective are less likely to receive a prize. You’ve heard before that female authors are reviewed with less frequency, and that they’re winning fewer awards. Are books that focus on women less likely to win serious awards?

In The Bookseller, Griffith said:

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women. Either this means that women writers are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find women frightening, distasteful, or boring. Certainly the results argue for women’s perspectives being considered uninteresting or unworthy. Women seem to have literary cooties.

The Pulitzer Prize is revealed to have awarded zero prizes in the last fifteen years to any books with a female protagonist. It’s squarely for dudes. The Man Booker has awarded three in fifteen years. Not much better.

But the female voice is valued in children’s literature: in the same number of years, the Newberry Medal has given the award to five books written from the female perspective written by women, and three from the female perspective written by men.

Griffith told The Guardian, “Women are more than half our culture, if half the adults in our culture have no voice, half the world’s experience is not being attended to, learnt from, or built upon. Humanity is only half what we could be.”


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.