The Costa Book Award nominations show progress - but there's still a LONG way to go for women writers
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Bucking a disappointing trend for 2016, women’s writing, it seems, is on the up. This week, Costa announced the nominees for its Costa Book Prize and women dominate, representing 14 of the 20 nominees. Rose Tremain (The Gustave Sonata), Maggie O’Farrell (This Must Be the Place) and Sarah Perry (The Essex Serpent) lead contenders for the £30,000 top prize. It comes just a week after America’s National Book Awards announced four male winners. Quartz responded to that news with a powerful piece comparing literary prizes with the percentage of winning women authors. Despite their presence among bestseller lists, women authors, they found, are significantly less likely to win a literary prize. Female Nobel Laureates are outnumbered nine-fold. Publishing’s bias towards men is not exclusive to the English-speaking world, but is a trend reflected across the majority of genres and cultures. Long-lists, finalists and award winners tend to be heavily dominated by male authors. This was particularly apparent at 2015’s Leipzig Book fair in Germany. Just one of five authors nominated in the fiction category was female, while no women at all were nominated for non-fiction work. Meanwhile, the total percentage of translated literary publications published in the UK is struggling to rise above 5%, and international female writers are a minority within this minority; responsible for less than one hundred books in Britain each year. Such high levels of disparity are prompting many leading publishing houses and translation services, to ask “Where are the women in translation and publishing?” Well, some industry professionals have put this sexist behaviour and social attitude down to national stereotypes of writers. “It's worth considering,” writes one Guardian contributor, “that translators and/or publishers in the English-speaking world are somehow biased towards a romantic image of the truly profound author as a tortured, chainsmoking man.” Even when the winners of big literary prizes are female writers, their books often centre on the stories of men and boys. Stories solely about women and girls, written by either gender, rarely win prizes. Novelist Nicola Griffith put this theory into practice, gathering information on books that had won the biggest literary prizes available for fiction since 2000.
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