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Akwaeke Emezi Getty.jpg

The UK Women's Prize For Fiction Faces Criticism For Rules That Exclude Non-Binary Writers

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Miscellaneous | October 6, 2020 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Miscellaneous | October 6, 2020 |

Akwaeke Emezi Getty.jpg

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is a literary award that, for the past 24 years, has been dedicated to celebrating the work of female authors. The prize was founded partly in opposition to the Booker Prize, which historically excluded women. Winners over the years have included Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Barbara Kingsolver, and Ali Smith. In 2019, they made history when the non-binary transgender author Akwaeke Emezi was longlisted for their debut novel Freshwater. It seemed to signal a new age for the prize, one where marginalized voices in publishing could further flourish. Unfortunately, it seems like the prize has taken a big step backwards in this area.

Emezi took to Twitter to reveal why they had not put forward their latest book, The Death of Vivek Oji, for consideration and revealed not only the violent hate they had been subjected to last year over their longlisting on the prize but how the committee seemed determined to reinforce the gender binary.

The official Twitter account for the Women’s Prize for Fiction explained their definition of who could qualify for the prize.

Look, it’s great that the prize committee is supportive of trans women, especially given that the British publishing scene is now dominated by TERF-y Lestrange and her violent sh*t, but ‘legally defined as a woman or of the female sex’ opens up some questionable territory. It seems like language specifically designed to exclude non-binary and genderqueer writers like Emezi, and that’s such a step back from their acknowledging of their incredible talent last year. It’s not as if the publishing world is falling over itself to celebrate non-binary voices, so why not make the prize more inclusive in that aspect? It wouldn’t hurt women, no matter what TERFs claim, and it would make the industry that little bit safer and more vibrant for those who are all too often shut out or dismissed.

It’s also SUPER GROSS that Emezi’s qualification for this prize would now suddenly rely on them ‘proving’ their ‘sex as defined by law.’ Because, as you all know, legally speaking, things are GREAT for anyone living outside of the smothering pink-blue binary.

There are other literary prizes for women’s fiction out there that celebrate non-binary voices, like the Stella Prize in Australia and the newly established Carol Shields prize for fiction, so come on, Women’s Prize committee, welcome to the 21st century already.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

Header Image Source: Getty Images.