Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Birth of a Literary Prize

There are times in life when we are galvanized by inequity. So it was for a group of women who were touched by a panel at the recent Vancouver Writers Festival and determined to do something to right a perceived wrong.

The Writers Festival panel looked at facts: since 1901, the Nobel Prize for Literature has only been taken home by a woman a dozen times. In Canada, the prestigious Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour has been awarded to only five women since 1947. Of the Giller Prize’s 19 winners, seven have been women and much less than half of the winners of the Governor-General’s Award for English-Language Fiction have been women.

On hearing these facts and others, something in the women in the lecture hall stirred. As poetically described by Marsha Lederman in the Globe and Mail:
The rain was teeming that night, but the real storm was happening onstage at the Vancouver Writers Fest: Five women, including the founder of the U.K.’s Orange Prize for Fiction, were discussing the state of affairs for female writers. It was not a happy tale: There is extreme gender inequality in the awarding of literary prizes both internationally, and in Canada.
Thomas Allen Publishers’ editorial director, Janice Zawerbny, was in the audience that night. She told The Globe that she was “shocked and dismayed. I just felt compelled to take action.”

And she did.
Over dinner with [novelist Susan] Swan and others in Vancouver this past weekend, Zawerbny hatched a plan -- a prize for female writers of fiction in Canada. Back in Toronto this week, she gave it a name: the Rosalind Prize for Fiction.
“I didn’t want to put ‘women’ in the title. I wanted it to be a fiction prize,” said Zawerbny, 44. The prize is named for Rosalind, the intelligent, resourceful and witty protagonist of Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. A secondary reference is to the British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin, who made critical, but overlooked contributions to the discovery of DNA.
And while plans and corporate sponsorship are still being worked out, the inaugural Rosalind Prize will be awarded in 2014.

The full Globe piece is here.

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