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Women’s Prize For Fiction Reveals Highly Anticipated 2021 Winner

Two stacks of books comprising the Women's Prize for Fiction 2021 Longlist. (Image: Women's Prize for Fiction.)

In the spring, the Women’s Prize for Fiction (WPFF) teased everyone with their longlist and shortlist recognizing excellence in writing fiction from women across the world. Wednesday Sept. 8th, the WPFF announced that announced the 2021 winner was Susanna Clarke for her book Piranesi.

2021 Chair of Judge Bernardine Evaristo wrote on the WPFF website: “We wanted to find a book that we’d press into readers’ hands, which would have a lasting impact. With her first novel in seventeen years, Susanna Clarke has given us a truly original, unexpected flight of fancy which melds genres and challenges preconceptions about what books should be. She has created a world beyond our wildest imagination that also tells us something profound about what it is to be human.”

Piranesi book cover. (Image: Bloomsbury Publishing.)

The book follows Piranesi slowly exploring the labyrinth house he lives in. His only interactions are with a man called The Other who visits him once a week. When a third person appears in the story Piranesi’s life and secrets begins to unravel.

After publishing her bestselling debut novel Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Clarke flew under the radar as she struggled with chronic illness. Seventeen years later, she returned with a bang with Piranesi. It was a book highly praised even before making the long list for the WPFF.

Founded in 1996, the Women’s Prize award can mean a big break for the author. The WPFF was created specifically because though 60% of writers were women, zero of the shortlisted books for the 1991 Booker Prize were women. Based in the U.K., WPFF reaches millions of readers, libraries/booksellers and people in publishing worldwide. In addition to the attention given for making the WPFF lists, the winner (Clarke this year) receives a prize of £30,000, and a limited edition bronze figurine called the ‘Bessie’.

I first learned about the prestigious awards from a reading challenge on StoryGraph. One of the challenges I chose, “Reading Women Challenge 2020,” featured a prompt that required a winner of the Stella Prize or the Women’s Prize for Fiction Award. I browsed the sites to see if any books were already on my TBR pile and found An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Since then, I return to find new books from their longlist every year.

In addition to this great win by Clarke, this year the awards for special for a number of reasons. Namely, the diversity of the books (in every way) that made both lists and the firsts. For example, once the longlist was announced back in May, writer Torrey Peters made history as the first trans woman to make the list for her novel Detransition, Baby.

Detransition, Baby book cover. (Image: One World.)

(Image: One World.)

Detransition, Baby follows three main characters Reese, Ames, and Katrina. With the exception of the desire to parent a child, Reese (a trans woman) and Amy are living a blissful life. A few years of separation and self destructive behavior later, and Ames (detransitioned from Amy) is sleeping with his married boss Katrina. Katrina becomes pregnant and Ames contacts Reese to see if she would be interested in helping them with the baby on the way.

After this viral tweet came across my timeline some time back, I added Peters’ novel to my TBR immediately.

Yes, the tweet had little to do with the novel itself and was more of a wholesome story of a dad (who loved the book) trying to understand what he thought was lavender linguistics and trans slang. But still.

Peters’ place on the longlist was an extra special entry considering how it contrasts to how comfortable last year’s winner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, feels among TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists).

Beyond this win for LGBTQ+ folks, the conversation started by non binary author Akwaeke Emezi in 2020 about the criteria of acceptance from WPFF needs to continue. The organization requires women making the longlist to be women as defined by law. Something not legally agreed upon and a privilege for those with the means of accessing transition support.

So far, from this longlist, I have only read Luster by Raven Lelani. That book was a MESSY look at a Black 23 year old woman in a relationship with a white man in an even messier long marriage. Thinking back to the book, I remember more what it felt like reading it and the visual rather than the plot itself (which is also great.) If the literary and storytelling merit of that book didn’t put Luster on the shortlist or win, I am very curious to read those picks and the winner (not sarcasm, I am excited).

Luster book cover. (Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

(Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

Many of the books like Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom and Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half, are collecting dust for how long they have been on my TBR list. For Bennett’s I first want to read some of it’s predecessors first like Passing by Nella Larson (done) and Oreo by Fran Ross.

Here are all the books that WPFF recognized in 2021 (almost all of which have positive to rave rating on Bookshop) to check out:

Longlist (sans those who made the long list)

  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
  • The Golden Rule Amanda Craig
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
  • Because of you by Dawn French
  • Luster by Raven Lelani
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon
  • Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  • Summer by Ali Smith


(image: Women’s Prize for Fiction.)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)