The Carol Shields Prize will award up to $100,000 to a North American female author, making it the largest literary cash prize awarded to a female author to date. Most notable prizes in American literature, the Nobel Prize, for example, are awarded mostly to men.
In the past twenty years, only six women have won the Nobel Prize in literature and only six have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. What’s new and exciting about the Carol Shields Prize is that by 2022 it will be the largest literary award that no men are eligible to receive.
The award will honor fiction by both North American women and nonbinary authors. It was co-founded by authors, poets, and finds support from Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picoult, among other literary legends.
The award’s sole criterion is literary excellence written by a woman or nonbinary author. The U.S. is technically behind the ball globally with an award like this one, as Australia, the UK, and France all have prestigious women’s literature prizes in place.
The winner of the Carol Shields Prize is given the ability to choose an emerging writer who they will mentor for a year. The prize will also award a grant to a female writer who is either an immigrant or refugee.
The award is named after Carol Shields, who won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1995 for “The Stone Diaries”. Shields’ work was generally about familial relationships, the home, and the female struggle.
Shields wrote over 20 books—as a Canadian and American dual citizen, it made sense to name the prize honoring North American writers after Shields. Shields’ work has also been consistently dismissed by male critics.
VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is a nonprofit that seeks to track gender breakdowns in literature. They found that women and men publish the same amount of novels over a three-year period, but only 25% of the books written by women were reviewed by men for the prominent book awards between 2017 and 2018.
Statistics like this one show a discrepancy in the number of female authors men are reading. Men aren’t as inclined to read fiction by women, one of the issues the Carol Shields Prize seeks to address.
The Carol Shields Prize will award more than the Booker Prize (50,000 pounds), Pulitzer Prize for Fiction ($15,000), and National Book Award ($10,000) combined to its inaugural honoree.
The prize also hopes to see book sales increase for female authors, which would make a big difference in the lives of women writers, putting many of them on a mainstage in ways they have not experienced before.
The hope of this prize is to see a surge in support for female authors and their work and to show the world the importance of the stories of these marginalized voices, regardless if society is paying close attention.