Why the Orange Prize is important
Robert McCrum writes on why the much-derided prize, accused of everything from discrimination to ghettoization, has accomplished its goal of bringing female writers to readers (read: women), and so much more.
In 1996, I was not alone in wondering how long this quixotic attempt to redress the wrongs inflicted by generations of literary turkey cocks would last. For instance, would an upstart mobile phone company indefinitely squander a massive publicity budget on champagne and canapes for a bunch of pushy metropolitan literati?
Yet Mosse and her friends had a point. In 1996, no question, literary London was a boy’s club. The imprints were run by men. The books they published were mainly written by men and the critics who reviewed them would mostly pass in the catalogue as members of the male gender. Sex is a poor basis on which to evaluate a work of art, but the dominance of the male in the book world was hard to overlook.
Yet here was the puzzling thing. None of this bore any relationship to the truth about the reading public. Everyone in publishing knew it was women who were the devoted fiction buyers, women who avidly read and discussed novels and women who kept the business ticking over.
Chicken or egg? If fiction by women came into vogue, was this a cause or an effect of Orange?