The termination of sponsorship by mobile-communication company Orange may mean the last year of the Orange Prize for Fiction; a literary award that celebrates the achievements of novels written by women. The annual prize is designed to “celebrate excellence, originality and accessibility of women’s writing from around the world” and is the longest continuous art sponsorship in the United Kingdom, first introduced in 1996. Novels written by women first published in the English language may be nominated. Previous winners of the esteemed prize include authors Zadie Smith, Tea Obreht and most recently, Madeline Miller for her 2012 novel The Song of Achilles.
The winner receives a £30,000 cheque and a bronze “Bessie” figurine, as well as the publicity and promotion that undoubtedly increase sales of said novel. The prize money itself is supplied through private donors, but Orange has until now assumed responsibility for the remainder of the award’s expenses. Concerns arise over the future of the award; yet thoughts also turn to the modern necessity for such a prize.
Happily, Women’s fiction presently appears becomes more accessible and acknowledged than in the not-so-distant past, and the necessity of distinguishing an award solely for women appears to be diminishing; as acknowledged by Orange’s decision to instead focus on their British film enterprise, particularly their Orange Wednesday and film advertising promotions. Yet the Orange prize has consistently drawn attention to authors who are perhaps more marginal and less mainstream. The Orange prize has done much to promote female novelists and their marketability; something vital as the publishing industry faces the challenge not only of European recession, but also of the boom in electronic, not paper, sales.
Speaking to the Guardian in May, Kate Mosse, the award’s co-founder and honorary director spoke of her keen interest in the prize’s longevity, remarking; “It’s very rare for a sponsorship like this to come onto the market – the investment generates something in the region of £17.5m a year in advertising and the cultural capital of the women’s prize for fiction is practically second to none. The potential is very exciting”. She suggests the Orange prize may soon assume a new name, and readers will pay attention to the literary merits insinuated by receiving such an award. Kate Mosses remains hopeful that the prize will remain strong; “…it’s a sponsorship peach; I imagine there’ll be a lot of competition to pick up the baton”. While the Orange prize itself may change shape and form, let us hope that the quality and value of women’s fiction only continues to grow.