Canadian literature prize for women in the works

Oct 30, 2012 | News

By Erin Eaton

Talks of a Canadian women’s literature prize are floating around the arts scene with Janet Zawernby, the editorial director at Thomas Allen Publishers, leading the movement.

In recent interviews, Zawernby said that she conceived the idea after attending a Women In Literature panel at the Vancouver Writers Festival.

In an interview on CBC’s Q cultural affairs show, Zawernby told host Jian Ghomeshi that she intends to call the prize the Rosalind Prize, after the strong female protagonist in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It.

Zawernby has said she hopes the award will come to fruition by 2014.

At the festival, panel member Gillian Jerome, founder of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, shared her research in gender disparity in Canadian writing. She found that women are less likely to have their books reviewed and even less likely to win a literary prize.

About one third of books reviewed in our national literary publications are written by women, with female literary prize-winners hovering at a similar number.

“What she found was a very serious gender disparity and critical underrepresentation of women writing in Canada,” Zawernby told CBC.
“As a person working in publishing, it’s a disparity even I wasn’t aware of.”

Canadian Women in the Literary Arts statistics show that since the introduction in 1994 of the Giller Prize — named after Toronto journalist Doris Giller — 34 per cent of the winners have been women.

Meanwhile, of the British Man Booker prize winners, women have made up 35 per cent and of the 108 Nobel Prize Literature winners, a mere 12 of the 108 winners have been women.

Despite Canada’s strong tradition of women’s writing, women themselves are not getting their fair share of media attention, Nadine Fladd, a professor at Humber and at Laurentian University, said in an interview Tuesday.

“In Canada, our major internationally well known authors are women — Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. You talk to someone from outside of Canada and those are the names they’re familiar with,” she told Humber News.

“But there’s a big difference between who is publishing and the reception.”

Fladd said she thinks an award for women could help expose fiction-hungry students to more works by women.

“I think for students who are interested in literature, prizes draw their attention to writers they might not otherwise encounter. So, having another prize that draws people’s attention to more writers will only encourage them to read those writers,” she said.

“The prize competition will encourage people to review those books and students will see those reviews.”