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Does Canada Need An Exclusive Literary Prize For Women Writers? The Facts Suggest Yes
October 29, 2012
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Here's a question - does Canada need a literary prize that would be handed out exclusively to women writers?

Janet Zawerbny - the editorial director at Thomas Allen Publishers - thinks so and she's hoping to hand out the first prize by 2014.

A couple of weeks ago, Zawerbny raised the idea of a women's literature prize for fiction in Canada.

She says she's received so much support, she wants to create one called The Rosalind Prize, after the strong female character in Shakespeare's 'As You Like It'.

Zawerbny says she's already had sponsors express interest. Now, she's looking to set up an organizing committee.

"I may be idealistic, but I'd think a year to organize and set up sponsorship and have the first prize happen in 2014," she said in an interview with CBC's 'Q'.

Zawerbny came up with the idea, after listening to a 'Women In Literature' panel at the Vancouver Writers Festival.

Panel members presented research on the gender disparity between women and men writers in this country.

For example, novelist Susan Swan put forward the following facts...

Since the Giller Prize was established in 1994, only seven of the 19 winners have been women.

For the Governor-General's Award for English-Language Fiction, about a third of the winners have been women.

For the Stephen Leacock Memorial Award For Humour, only five women have won since it was established 65 years ago.

It's a similar story for winners of the Man Booker prize - only 35 per cent have been women.

And in the 108 years the Nobel Prize for Literature has been handed out, only 12 women have won.

Gillian Jerome from the organization 'Canadian Women in the Literary Arts' also presented some important findings.

According to her research, an equal number of women and men writers get published in Canada. But women are much less likely to have their books reviewed and much less likely to win a literary prize.

And yet, as Zawerbny points out "Women are the majority of people who buy books and the majority who read books, and men and women write an equal number of books in this country, so why are women winning a third of the prizes of men and getting a third of reviews."

Zawerbny believes an exclusive prize would "elevate women's writing and the profile of women writers in this country."

She points to the Orange Prize in Britain which was started in 1996. Zawerbny says it hasn't marginalized women writers; it has helped push them into the mainstream and increase their sales.

Australia has also created a women's prize for literature - the Stella Prize. The first one will be handed out next spring.

"This prize that celebrates women's fiction doesn't create a pink ghetto, I think it's completely the opposite," Zawerbny says. "I actually think such a prize is inclusive because it brings women into the fold, it brings them into the mainstream."

This year, three women are among the five finalists for the Giller Prize.

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