Proof That Women Do—And Should!—Win Literary Awards

Last week, British novelist Nicola Griffith momentarily broke the internet when she blogged about a startling discovery: Through her own independent research, she found that books about women characters, written by women novelists, for the most part do not win awards.

While Griffith is the first to admit that she’s “a novelist, not a statistician,” her analysis of six major awards in fiction over the last 15 years presents a disturbing trend: Novels featuring adult women as the main character are shunned from literary accolades. At the “top of the prestige ladder,” for example, authors who wrote novels from the vantage point of an adult woman won zero Pulitzer Prizes over the last 15 years. By contrast, however, young adult fiction starring girls has been thriving on the awards circuit: YA books featuring girl protagonists have won eight out of the last 15 Newbery Medals, five of which were awarded to women authors. 

So why is it that, when a character reaches a certain age, she is suddenly shunned by a panel of “esteemed judges”? Griffith argues that while “girls are interesting…it’s hard to escape the conclusion that, when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women.”

In a follow-up blog post, Griffith proposes the start of a solution: more data. Research organizations like VIDA, she argues, are key to understanding the lack of powerful women characters in award-winning literature. Perhaps a better knowledge of the entire system (from publishing, to reviewing, to the awards process) will “help sort correlation from cause. When we have causes, we can find solutions—or at least begin to experiment with a variety of solutions.” This type of structural change is what is desperately needed in the literary world, so that novels available on bookstore shelves (or let’s face it, on reflect the lives of women throughout the world.

In response to Griffith’s post, we put together a quick list of some of our favorite award-winning novels written by and starring women.


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Photo courtesy of Flickr user MCAD Library licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms.



Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.