Melinda Gates recently announced that she is donating $250,000 to the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction. The award was created in 2020 and it is the first English language literary award to celebrate excellence in fiction by women writers in the United States and Canada.
The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction is the largest literary award in the world, second only to the Nobel Prize in literature. Its first winner and four nominees will be announced in 2023.
In an interview with Oprah, Melinda Gates said that she was supporting this award in particular because women have less advantages than their male counterparts. “Throughout history,” Gates said, “women have been writing profound groundbreaking books. Yet often they earn less, are reviewed less frequently, and are overlooked for awards. The Carol Shields Prize is an exciting step toward a future where books by women get the attention and prestige they deserve.”
The prize was founded by writer Susan Swan and the Canadian publisher Janice Zawerbny. In 2012 they attended a book festival panel in which they learned that hat books by women receive only one-third of the review coverage accorded books by men and that they are often looked over by other big awards like Booker, the Nobel, the Pulitzer, and the National Book Award. Inspired by this, and after many years of organizing and fundraising they established this award to honor women. They named the prize after the Pulitzer Prize-winning late writer Carol Shields, author of The Stone Diaries and many other important works in which women’s lives were the focus.
Carol Shields Prize organization, founder Susan Swan said, “We are creating an activist foundation where women writers empower other women writers. Our mentorship programs for emerging women writers from all backgrounds and gender identities are critical to shifting cultural attitudes. Emerging women writers are the young trees in the forest and older writers like myself are here in part to help them grow.”
Gates added, “Through all my travels around the world, whether in a Northern Indian village or a remote part of Tanzania, women tell me, ‘Nobody’s ever asked me my story before, they’ve never asked me about my life.’ By listening to their stories, and saying their names we were telling them: your lives are important. That’s why what the Carol Shields Prize will be doing is essential.”