A brave collective of women across the pond have decided to include women in the upper echelons of literary stardom by introducing the Women’s Prize for Fiction (known as the Orange Prize until just last year), an award that “celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.”
The shortlisted candidates are six superstars culled from a list of 20 superlative nominees, with each finalist more impressive than the last. They’ve drawn praise from stalwarts like Salman Rushdie and Jonathan Franzen, and have won the most prestigious fellowships and prizes in literature (in some cases, more than once). The judges have their work cut out for them. They’re not just picking an amazing book: this inaugural prize is a salute to present and future female literary giants.
Chairing the panel of judges assessing this A-team is veteran actress Miranda Richardson, whose recent work includes a significant role in the BBC miniseries Parade’s End, which aired in the U.S. last fall. She joins a group of seasoned novelists, journalists, and human rights activists in selecting this year’s winner. Richardson is a refreshing choice, as an actor’s perspective on evocative language, compelling characters, and gripping stories can further elucidate the world a novelist brings to life. In addition to her first-rate thespian credentials, Richardson has used her position on the panel as opportunity to champion women’s auspicious careers in the arts. Richardson read all 145 novels that were originally nominated, and vehemently defended one of the writers who was targeted for her weight and infertility, demonstrating the impressive extent of Richardson’s commitment. No stranger to women’s struggle to be recognized in the arts, Richardson didn’t show up to add celebrity status to a ladies’ book club — she cares just as much about the women who wrote these masterpieces as the books themselves.
To see the judge’s discussion of the shortlisted books, you can check out this YouTube video. Watch it, then go read them all. Or Grumpy Cat will judge you.
Here’s a look at the impressive nominees:
1. Zadie Smith
The half Jamaican, half British writer sold her first novel, White Teeth, on the strength of an incomplete manuscript that went on to see critical and commercial success, earning Smith a name for herself in the literature world at the ripe old age of 24. She is nominated for her most recent novel, NW.
2. Hilary Mantel
Two-time winner of the Booker Prize, nominated for her novel Bring Up the Bodies, the second installment of a trilogy featuring Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power under Henry VIII, she’s included in this year’s TIME 100 list of most influential people.
3. Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver was born in Kentucky and raised partly in the Congo, the setting for her most famous work, Poisonwood Bible, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. She is also a previous winner of the Orange Prize; she is nominated for her novel Flight Behavior.
4. Amy M. Homes (a.k.a A. M. Homes)
A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Holmes is nominated for her novel May We Be Forgiven.
5. Maria Semple
A television writer whose credits include 90210, Ellen, and Arrested Development, Semple is nominated for her uproariously funny novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
6. Kate Atkinson
Apparently, her novels are so damn good she was knighted. Atkinson is nominated for her novel Life After Life.
Stay tuned — the winner will be announced on June 15.