Women’s Prize to Clarify Policy Around Gender Criteria After Non-Binary Nomination

By April 4, 2019 Literary Awards, News

The Women’s Prize for Fiction has said that it is working on and to clarify its policy around gender fluid, transgender, and non-binary writers after featuring non-binary author Akwaeke Emezi on its latest longlist for their novel Freshwater.

Chair of Trustees Joanna Prior was keen to stress that the Trust was comfortable that all sixteen authors on this year’s longlist were eligible but noted the need to clarify the criteria for the future.

Prior stated to the Bookseller this week that “Like many organisations, the Women’s Prize Trust is now working to formulate a policy around gender fluid/transgender/ transgender non-binary writers to provide clarity for the Prize in the future.”

Emezi is the first non-binary trans person to be nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in the prize’s history and is nominated for their debut novel, Freshwater. After the nomination a number of media outlets focused on the author’s gender and background with The Times newspaper in the UK running a piece about Emezi and questioning the criteria for the prize. The report in the Times stated that Emezi had criticised the jury after one of the judges wrote in The Guardian newspaper that the author had identified as a woman, however, Faber’s editorial director Louisa Joyner has said that is not the case.

In an interview with Brittlepaper, Emezi confirmed that rather than being a man in a woman’s body, they feel like neither and had their uterus removed five years ago.

Joyner shared an open letter to the Times stating “The Women’s Prize set out to directly address gender bias and has done so with genuine political and cultural force to give a platform (and a microphone) to those who, prior to its foundation, were hugely under-represented in a mainstream media that failed to identify its own gender bias. What could be more in keeping with this than for the Women’s Prize to accept a submission from a novelist who self-identifies in a way that rejects normative gender paradigms? The claim that Emezi identified as a woman at the time of the novel’s publication, as referenced in the [Times] article, is false.”

One of the judges, Professor Kate Williams previously told the Guardian that the judges were not aware of Emezi’s gender identity when they selected Freshwater but they did check that Emezi was happy to be longlisted before they made the announcement.

Freshwater is Emezi’s debut novel, and is fairly new to the literary scene. The author was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. Emezi is also a video artist and received an MPA from New York University and won the 2015 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship as well as the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa.

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