Someone said :
I'm always a bit skeptical of the Orange Prize. I just don't see the point of having a female only shortlist and a female only panel of judges.
I read the following in yesterday's Guardian and thought it is an interesting perspective on that question.
This week winners were announced for two prizes with only one thing in common, apart from the lack of a clear identity: they both struggle to find women who satisfy them. Terry Pratchett, who will next week collect the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction â€“ he wins a set of Wodehouse novels, lots of Boly and the annual photo-opportunity with a pig â€“ is the seventh male winner on the trot of an award won only once by a woman (Marina Lewycka in 2005).
Rahul Bhattacharya's Guyana-set novel The Sly Company of People Who Care took the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prize for books evoking "the spirit of a place". The winners of Sir Christopher Ondaajte's Â£10,000 award, which seems to embrace its traditionalist image by climaxing in a black-tie dinner at a Pall Mall club, have been all-male since Louisa Waugh won for Hearing Birds Fly in 2004, the first year it was awarded.
Given their recent records, it looks unwise for both announcements to occur in the same week as the Orange prize. But what explains the apparent bias? In the case of the Wodehouse, one factor may be a shift from the original ideas of honouring "comic literature" (early shortlists included comedians' memoirs and even a collection of obituaries) to "comic fiction", thereby eliminating female writers of non-fiction such as Tina Fey, Marina Hyde, Caitlin Moran or Lynne Truss.
It may be relevant that the judges tend to be chaps; and it could be that publishers, after so many years of knock-backs for female comic writers, have stopped submitting them for an award that appears all too faithful to the Everyman in its title.
The Ondaatje prizes' recent judging panels hae been made up of teo women and one man. And the quality of these female judge's own writing about places â€“ Michele ROberts on France, Kamila Shamsie on Pakistan (both judges this year, with Nick Laird), Sarah Waters (2011) on London and Kent, Kathleen Jamie (2010) on Scotland â€“ makes you wonder why they've never found themselves collecting the award instead of handing it out.
The overlap with the Orange is a reminder that virtually all its recent winners, from Chimamanda Ngoi Adichie to TÃ©a Obreht, have produced novels powerfully conjuring places, although how many of the American winners would have met the Ondaatje prize's obscure requirement for at least a stint of UK residence is unclear.
This year's choice of novelist was untypical, as recent winners have nudged the Ondaatje towards being an alternative to the Samuel Johnson non-fiction proze, stretching the meaning of the rubric's "sense of place" to encompass the entire country (Graham RObb's The Discrovery of France ) or even several countries (Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes ). And this doesn't favour women either, since, as Samuel Johnson shortlists indicate, weighty non-fiction tends to be male-dominated.
Let's hope that this time next year both prozes will surprise us. Zadie Smith's forthcoming NW is bound to be funny, and vividly to evoke the eponynmous part of London where it's set. John Dugdale