As the search continues for a Women's fiction prize sponsor, two Commonwealth nations have gone ahead and started their own
The Stella prize, in Australia, is named after Stella Miles Franklin, the esteemed novelist whose bequest founded the country's most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, which came under memorable attack last year for being a "sausage fest". No female author had made the shortlist for the second time in three years, and just 13 out of the award's 50 winners had been women.
That changed this year when Anna Funder took the prize, but a group of women in the arts have founded the Stella award nonetheless, to "raise the profile of women's writing" with a prize pot of A$50,000 for the best work of fiction or non-fiction by a woman.
In Canada, meanwhile, trade magazine Quill & Quire reports that the Rosalind prize is being set up. It's just for fiction, and it comes about due to the disparity in numbers discovered by the organisation Canadian Women in the Literary Arts: although looking at submissions for the Governor General's Literary Awards, "women and men published books in near equal numbers in 2011 with 513 books published by men and 523 books published by women", far fewer books by women were reviewed in the press (you can see the details here).
"I thought things were fine and equal here in Canada. I didn't realise the disparity until looking at the hard numbers," publisher Janice Zawerbny told Quill & Quire. "It was really disheartening. Why is this happening in this day and age? It became the impetus or the rallying cry, sitting in the auditorium."
The establishment of the Rosalind prize follows the discontinuation, in 2008, of Canada's Marian Engel award for female writers. There's an intriguing piece in the Globe and Mail by Leah McLaren about this.
"In Canada, women writers have been playing with the big boys for some time now," she writes. "This is why, in 2008, when I was on the authors' committee of the Writers' Trust of Canada, we discontinued the Marian Engel award (for a woman writer in mid-career) and created the Engel/Findley award to honour a body of work by any established Canadian writer, male or female. Assessing the literary landscape, the committee decided that a gendered prize was no longer needed – and we were right. It was a wise choice, and one that reflected the progress (if not outright dominance) of female Canadian writers on a level playing-field."
Clearly, not everyone in Canada agrees that there's a level playing-field these days. But as we in the UK discuss whether or not we still need the Women's prize for fiction – Hilary Mantel, after all, is fresh from her second Booker win – it's intriguing to note that other countries are starting their own versions.