13 Must-Read Books by Women’s Prize for Fiction Winners

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Awarded annually to the champion novel written by a pistillate writer of immoderate nationality, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is among the astir prestigious literate awards successful the world. It was archetypal conceptualized successful effect to the Booker Prize shortlist of 1991, which lone featured books by antheral writers. In fact, by 1992, only 10 percent of novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize were penned by women.

The grant officially launched successful 1996 arsenic the Orange Prize for Fiction. (Orange, a UK-based telecommunications company, was the superior sponsor astatine the time.) You whitethorn besides admit the Women’s Prize for Fiction by a fewer of its different former names, which see the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2008-2009) and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (2014-2017). It wasn’t until 2018 that the existent sanction was introduced, on with a marque caller sponsorship exemplary that removed the request to trust connected a azygous sponsor.

Despite the award’s aggregate rebrands implicit the years, the Women’s Prize for Fiction’s criteria has remained the aforesaid since its inception. To beryllium eligible, books indispensable beryllium works of fabrication written by pistillate authors and published successful English successful the United Kingdom during the preceding calendar year. The Women’s Prize Trust besides provides a wide scope of year-round resources for readers and aspiring writers, including penning improvement programs, workshops connected craft, curated speechmaking lists, and more. 

More than 400 works person been longlisted for this historical literate grant since 1996, with conscionable 1 rubric per twelvemonth coming retired connected top. In grant of Women’s History Month (and successful anticipation of the 2023 Women’s Prize connected Wednesday, June 14), present are a fewer large standouts from the past fewer decades.

 "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett

"Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett / Harper Books / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

Ann Patchett’s caller Bel Canto won the Women’s Prize successful 2002. Now heralded by galore arsenic a modern classic, this gripping thriller is based connected the real-life 1996 Japanese embassy hostage crisis successful Lima, Peru. 

The communicative follows a radical of young terrorists, their hostages, and the life-altering relationships that inevitably unfold arsenic a result, focusing connected cardinal themes similar music, art, and opera throughout. (Perhaps that helps enactment the rubric into context; the accepted operatic word bel canto translates to “beautiful singing.”) Since its publication, the caller has been adapted for a wide assortment of amusement and show mediums, including a 2015 opera performed astatine the Lyric Opera of Chicago and a 2018 film starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Small Island (2004) // Andrea Levy

 "Small Island" by Andrea Levy

"Small Island" by Andrea Levy / Picador / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

Born successful London to Jamaican migrant parents, Andrea Levy’s enactment mostly explores themes of radical identity, colonialism, and migration done the lens of her Caribbean heritage. Small Island is Levy’s 4th novel, a enactment of humanities fabrication that earned the Women’s Prize successful 2004. Told done 4 chiseled narrators, the publication chronicles the vastly antithetic experiences of 2 couples—one white, the different a brace of Jamaican immigrants—as they navigate the challenges and complexities of post-war London successful 1948. 

In grant of the Prize’s 10th day successful 2005, Small Island was awarded the rubric of the “Best of the Best” prize among the archetypal decennary of winners. (Also referred to astatine the clip arsenic the “Orange of Oranges,” a play connected the Booker Prize’s equivalent, “Booker of Bookers.”) Prior to winning the Women’s Prize successful 2004, Levy was longlisted for the accolade successful 1996 for her 2nd caller Never Far From Nowhere, and past served arsenic a judge for the grant successful 1997.

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 "On Beauty" by Zadie Smith

"On Beauty" by Zadie Smith / Penguin Books / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

The 2006 Women’s Prize winner was Zadie Smith’s poignant 3rd publication On Beauty, which besides made the Man Booker Prize shortlist the aforesaid year. This literate caller takes spot successful a fictional suburb of Boston wherever 2 rivaling American families unrecorded and enactment successful an archetypal assemblage town. Their lives go inextricably intertwined arsenic the communicative progresses, and the families feud implicit everything from differing politics, spiritual beliefs, nonrecreational successes, and drama-invoking, clandestine affairs. 

As the short, punchy rubric suggests, On Beauty poses the deceptively analyzable question: What is it that makes beingness genuinely beautiful? In summation to being a direct homage to Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, Smith besides pulled inspiration for the communicative from her ain experience arsenic a visiting chap astatine Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute.

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4. Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) // Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 "Half of A Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Half of A Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie / Vintage Books / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

By offering a devastating representation of sisterhood and colonialism, Half of a Yellow Sun transports readers backmost to a captious infinitesimal successful Nigerian past and the conflict for independence. The caller opens successful the aboriginal 1960s and extends into the years that marked Nigeria’s heartbreaking and convulsive civilian war, switching betwixt past and contiguous timelines arsenic the interconnected lives of 3 individuals—a brace of duplicate sisters and a 13-year-old boy— unfold. The characters soon find themselves connected the tally from the looming struggle arsenic their ideals and loyalties to each different are enactment to the test. 

This celebrated enactment of humanities fabrication collected the Women’s Prize successful 2007, but its past with it doesn’t extremity there. In solemnisation of the award’s 20th day successful 2015, Half of a Yellow Sun  was named “Best of the Best” among the 2nd decennary of winners. Five years later, Adichie’s caller was besides crowned the “Winner of Winners” successful a nationalist ballot that honored the Prize’s 25th anniversary.

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 "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver

"The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver / Harper Perennial / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

By definition, the word lacuna refers to a gap. It tin encompass thing that’s absent—an unfilled space, a skipped interval, oregon adjacent afloat sections of a book, manuscript, oregon diary that are mysteriously missing. (Or possibly they’re intentionally excluded?) Barbara Kingsolver expands connected this immense motif successful her seventh caller The Lacuna, an adventurous humanities fabrication that won the Women’s Prize successful 2010. 

The communicative follows Harrison Shepherd, an American surviving successful 1930s Mexico City who befriends the famed creator Frida Kahlo erstwhile helium takes connected an unusual occupation mixing plaster for her husband, muralist Diego Rivera. Told done Harrison’s collected diary entries that person been stitched backmost unneurotic aft his death, The Lacuna is simply a hard-hitting caller that calls the thought of authenticity and the narration betwixt creation and authorities into question done the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution and beyond.

In summation to winning the Women’s Prize, the publication besides received the 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Award and was shortlisted for the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award.

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6. The Tiger’s Wife (2011) // Téa Obreht

 "The Tiger’s Wife" by Téa Obreht

"The Tiger’s Wife" by Téa Obreht / Random House / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

Téa Obreht made Women’s Prize past successful 2011 erstwhile her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, earned her the rubric of youngest winner of the grant to date. Written chiefly portion Obreht attended Cornell University, the publication is simply a literate household saga acceptable against the backdrop of a fictional state successful the Balkan Peninsula. The portion and its radical are collectively recovering from years of civilian warfare and unrest arsenic the novel’s protagonist, a young pistillate doc named Natalia, returns location to assistance and reconnect with her mysterious gramps during his last days.

An excerpt of The Tiger’s Wife first appeared successful The New Yorker successful 2009, years earlier it would spell connected to person captious acclaim and besides go a 2011 National Book Award finalist. At the property of 24, Obreht was named by The New Yorker arsenic the youngest (and 1 of the best) American fabrication writers nether 40. 

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 "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller

"The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller / Ecco / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

Even if you cognize adjacent to thing astir Greek mythology, chances are you’ve heard of Achilles before—or astatine the precise least, his proverbial heel. But successful her debut caller The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller aims to dismantle immoderate and each of your expectations. 

A communicative of young love, friendship, and heartbreak acceptable against the calamity of war, The Song of Achilles is simply a reimagining of Homer’s classical Trojan War communicative The Iliad and received the Women’s Prize successful 2012. Miller’s inspiration for the novel stemmed from her vexation with the continued homophobic erasure by scholars and historians alike of Achilles’s same-sex narration with Patroclus, a young prince. The merchandise of a decade of extended research, The Song of Achilles expands the boundaries of classical Greek mythology arsenic we cognize it to halfway and observe a cheery emotion communicative for the ages.

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8. The Power (2016) // Naomi Alderman

 "The Power" by Naomi Alderman

"The Power" by Naomi Alderman / Little, Brown and Company / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

What would hap if women astir the globe abruptly gained superhuman abilities? Naomi Alderman explores this provocative alternate world and vividly reimagines gendered powerfulness dynamics successful her sci-fi, historical-fiction hybrid novel, The Power

When the publication opens, 5000 years person passed since women and girls archetypal developed an immense “electrostatic power,” starring to a worldwide gyration and a implicit societal reset. Readers are instantly thrust into a metafictional manuscript wrong the novel, which recounts the past of this phantasy satellite arsenic it besides chronicles the vastly antithetic experiences of 5 chiseled narrators during this tumultuous time. In summation to picking up the Women’s Prize successful 2017, The Power was besides named 1 of the 10 Best Books of 2017 by The New York Times.

Buy it: Amazon

 "Home Fire" by Kamila Shamsie

"Home Fire" by Kamila Shamsie / Riverhead Books / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

Kamila Shamsie’s seventh caller Home Fire is simply a enactment of literate fabrication rife with timely governmental commentary. At its heart, the communicative is simply a household tragedy: It follows 3 British siblings of Pakistani descent arsenic they reckon with their taste individuality and conflict to consciousness accepted successful a satellite that would similar to alienate them. 

Told successful 5 “acts” with antithetic point-of-view characters, the publication is besides a modern reimagining of Sophocles’s Greek calamity Antigone that whitethorn punctual immoderate readers to analyse their views connected terrorists and their families. Home Fire netted the Women’s Prize win successful 2018 aft being shortlisted for the 2018 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize successful 2017. Following the novel’s captious acclaim and occurrence connected the awards circuit, the BBC News besides included Home Fire successful its roundup of the 100 astir inspiring English-language novels.

Buy it: Amazon

10. An American Marriage (2018) // Tayari Jones

 "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones

"An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones / Algonquin Books / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

Young newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the 2 cardinal characters successful Tayari Jones’s 2018 caller An American Marriage. As they settee into their caller roles unneurotic successful Atlanta, their lives look similar the quintessential embodiment of the American Dream—until Roy is abruptly arrested and convicted of a transgression Celestial insists helium did not commit. 

As the winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work successful Fiction, Jones’s heart-wrenching 4th caller explores the lasting effects of a wrongful condemnation connected a young Black mates successful America. In 2018, An American Marriage was besides selected arsenic an Oprah’s Book Club pick, with Winfrey describing the caller arsenic 1 that “redefines the accepted American emotion story.” Later that year, Winfrey besides announced plans to nutrient the book’s movie adaptation.

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 "Hamnet" by Maggie O’Farrell

"Hamnet" by Maggie O’Farrell / Knopf / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

A communicative of love, loss, and uncovering one’s mode done unbearable grief, Hamnet is simply a fictionalized relationship of the beingness of William Shakespeare’s lone son, who died astatine the property of 11 successful 1596. But contempt recounting this large lawsuit successful the celebrated playwright’s life, the caller deliberately leaves Shakespeare unnamed passim its pages—he is lone ever referred to successful vague descriptors specified arsenic “the husband,” “the father,” oregon “the Latin tutor.” Instead, Hamnet chooses to radiance the spotlight connected the often overlooked acquisition of Shakespeare’s family, focusing besides connected his wife, who is called Agnes successful the book, from the highs of her courtship and matrimony to Shakespeare, to the lows of grieving the nonaccomplishment of her son. 

O’Farrell traced her fascination successful Hamnet backmost to the archetypal clip she studied Hamlet successful school. The novel, which took home the Women’s Prize successful 2020, is O’Farrell’s effort to springiness the kid who inspired 1 of Shakespeare’s top works his ain dependable successful history.

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12. Piranesi (2020) // Susanna Clarke

 "Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke

"Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke / Bloomsbury Publishing / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

“When the Moon roseate successful the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witnesser the joining of 3 Tides.” So begins Piranesi, Susanna Clarke’s labyrinth of a novel, which plays with form, perspective, and deliberate disorientation. A reflection connected solitude and sanity, the communicative is acceptable successful a phantasy location that holds an infinite fig of halls, rooms, and corridors. All are populated with marble statues and devoid of people, prevention for a antheral named Piranesi (the eponymous narrator) and a mysterious entity called “the Other.” 

Piranesi received captious acclaim upon publication, winning the 2021 Women’s Prize. It was besides shortlisted successful 2020 for the BSFA Award for Best Novel and the Costa Book Award, respectively. The audiobook version, which is narrated by award-winning histrion Chiwetel Ejiofor, besides earned an Audie Award successful 2021 for Audiobook of the Year. 

Buy it: Amazon

 "The Book of Form and Emptiness" by Ruth Ozeki

"The Book of Form and Emptiness" by Ruth Ozeki / Viking / Amazon; Justin Dodd, Mental Floss (background)

A writer, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest, Ruth Ozeki is known for crafting works of inventive fabrication that besides effortlessly integrate real-life issues successful science, technology, biology politics, and adjacent planetary popular culture. Her latest release, titled The Book of Form and Emptiness, is the astir caller caller to receive the Women’s Prize, positive respective different prestigious literate honors.

Told from the playful constituent of presumption of a young lad who begins proceeding voices aft the decease of his begetter and seeks solace successful his section nationalist library, The Book of Form and Emptiness is Ozeki’s “love missive to books and reading.”

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