Welcome to the Women Writer's Prize 2021!
The inaugural award for women writers of fiction was announced in October 2021 and here is the longlist.
The prize announcement came after seven years of ">Women Writers Fest organised by SheThePeople, putting the spotlight on literary contributions of women writers, and that is exactly what the award aims to do too. Even though women have been writing literature for centuries, they have been often overlooked by the male-populated literary world. The Women Writer's Prize recognises the gap when it comes to awarding works of men and women in the field and makes an effort to provide an exclusive focus on women writers and only women writers.
As expected, Indian women writers made the best of the year 2021 and published great works of fiction. Out of the overwhelming number of award submissions, our jury members Preeti Gill, G Sampath and Lakshmi longlisted 12 authors. Talking about the longlist, Prize curator Shinie Antony said, "The longlist makes for an absolute must-read. These are compelling narratives, written and translated with the warmest authenticity. Very proud and emotional to present the very first longlist of the SheThePeople Women Writer's Prize."
Here is the Women Writer's Prize 2021 Longlist:
A Death in Shonagachhi – Rijula Das (Picador India)
A Mirror Made of Rain - Naheed Phiroze Patel (Fourth Estate India)
A Red-necked Green Bird – Ambai, translator GJV Prasad (S&S India)
Baby Doll: Stories – Gracy, translator Fathima EV (Harper Perennial India)
Budhini - Sarah Joseph, translator Sangeetha Sreenivasan (Penguin Hamish Hamilton)
Sisterhood of Swans – Selma Carvalho (Speaking Tiger)
The Begum and the Dastan - Tarana Husain Khan (Tranquebar)
The Blind Matriarch - Namita Gokhale (Penguin Viking)
The Illuminated - Anindita Ghose (Fourth Estate India)
The Loneliness of Hira Barua – Arupa Patangia Kalita, translator Ranjita Biswas (Pan Macmillan India)
The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories - Nisha Susan (Context)
What We Know About Her - Krupa Ge (Context)
A Death in Shonagachhi
Rijula Das' protagonist Lalee gets a better paying job as an escort. She trades her life of violence and destitution for a relatively better life in Shonagachhi. It all happens when erotic novelist Trilokeshwar 'Tilu' Shah and Lalee's long-standing client falls in with her. The book was born after critical research by the author on the connection between public spaces and sexual violence.
Das made her debut as a novelist with A Death in Shonagacchi in July 2021. The book won the Tata Lit Live First Book Award in 2021 and a limited series adaption from the book is already in development. The fiction will travel the world with its release in France and Russia in 2023. The author vhas published many short stories before writing A Death In Shonagacchi. She lives in Willington, New Zealand.
Naheed Phiroze Patel
A Mirror Made of Rain
This coming-of-age novel by Naheed Phiroze Patel has the protagonist Noomia Wadia struggling with the complicated relationship she has with her mother. She grows into a troubled adult and finds her story similar to her mother's. That is when her battle against herself starts.
Author Naheed Phiroze Patel is a fellowship award-winning graduate from Columbia University's School of Arts. Her write-ups have appeared in leading Indian and international publications such as The Guardian, New England Review among others.
Suggested Reading: Shashi Deshpande On Why We Need An Award For Women Writers And More
A Red-necked Green Bird
This collection of short stories written by Ambai is a mixture of contemporary and past legends. With every story dealing with different shades of love from parental to the divine, Ambai has put the focus on social issues of the present. The book was translated to English by GJV Prasad.
Writer CS Lakshmi, who writes under the pseudonym Ambai, came out with her first work in 1962 when she was still a teenager. A Red-necked Green Bird is her seventh short-story collection. Lakshmi has many Tamil short stories to her credit. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 by Canada-based Tamil Literary Garden for her contribution to Tamil literature. The feminist writer has worked many years as a lecturer and has done independent research in women's studies. She lives in Mumbai.
Baby Doll: Stories
This collection of short stories by Malayalam writer Gracy is about female desire and the relationship between modern men and women. In varying lengths, the stories try to be honest about sexual relations, jealousy and vengeance. It is the first time that Gracy's work has been made available to English readers because of the translation done by Fathima E.V. The collection also carries a retelling of Draupadi's story as a coming-of-age tale.
Gracy published her first collection of short stories in 1991. She went on to write many stories widely recognised in Malayalam literature such as Gracyude Kathakal, Randu Swapna Darsikal, Eezbu Penkathakal among others. Gracy won the Sahitya Akademi Children's Literary Award in 2020 for her book Vazhthappetta Poocha.
This fiction is a reimagined telling of a real incident that took place in Jharkhand when former Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru visited the state to inaugurate the Damodar valley dam in 1959. A woman named Budhini Mehjan was chosen by the Damodar Valley Corporation to welcome the Nehru. She offered a garland to Nehru and applied tikka on his forehead. Seen as an act of matrimony in her community, the 15-year-old girl was ostracised from her village and also lost her job as a construction worker.
The story written in Malayalam was translated into English by the author's daughter Sangeetha Sreenivasan. Sarah Joseph is a celebrated author based in Kerala. In 2016, Joseph resigned as the state convener for the political party Aam Aadmi Party. Her novel Aalahayude Penmakkal won her the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award.
Sisterhood of Swans
Carvalho's novel is the coming-of-age story of a girl named Anna-Marie Souza who lives in a suburb of London. Her parents migrated there from Bombay before Anna-Marie was born. Her mother loves to hate India and her best friend Sujata constantly thinks about ending her own life. Apart from the two, Anna-Marie also has Jessie, a beautician at a Bollywood-style salon, to add to her colourful life. Then there are men and her failed relationships with them.
Selma Carvalho is an award-winning author who has explored themes of migration and memory in her fiction and non-fiction works.
Tarana Husain Khan
The Begum and the Dastan
Schoolgirl Ameera's grandmother narrates the story of her great-grandmother Feroza Begum who was kidnapped and confined in the harem of Nawab Shams Ali Khan of princely state Sherpur. Feroza Begum had to marry the Nawab and live in the harem. Ameera herself is confined in her home because her parents did not pay her school fees.
Author Tarana Husain Khan is a food historian and writer from Rampur who likes to explore the cultural history of the city. Her articles on food have been published by leading publications in India. Khan came out with her first novel titled I Am Not A Bimbette in 2015. She lives between Nainital and Rampur.
The Blind Matriarch
Matangi-Ma lives on the top floor of her house with her children and grandchildren. The story narrates the struggles and comforts of being part of a dysfunctional extended joint family where the hierarchy is strict. The blind matriarch, Matangi-Ma, is overprotected by her three children who are also dismissive of her. Her grandchildren are now learning the old secrets of the family.
Author Namita Gokhale has many fiction and non-fiction novels to her credit. Her debut novel, Paro: Dreams of Passion, came out in 1984. Gokhale was the host of the Doordarshan show Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond, a multilingual show based on books. In 2021, she bagged the Sahitya Akademi Award. Gokhale is the founder and co-director of the well-known Jaipur Literature Festival.
Anindita Ghose's debut novel has two women at the centre, Shashi and Tara. Tara is a Sanskrit scholar who gets involved with an older man. While her mother Shashi has just lost her husband who was celebrated by society. The loss makes Shashi think about her new purpose in life. The two protagonists try to see themselves and each other in the presence of a rising tide of religious fundamentalism in India.
Mumbai-based author Anindita Ghose has worked as a culture journalist for 15 years. She got her master's in arts and culture journalism from Columbia University and was named the Hawthornden Writing Fellow in 2019. She was the editor of Mint Lounge. She also held the position of Vogue India features director where she wrote and commissioned articles on books, travel, culture and design.
Arupa Patangia Kalita
The Loneliness of Hira Barua
This collection of short stories narrates the plight of women in a conflict-ridden region in Assam. Hira Barua is an ageing widow witnessing the horrors taking place near her. The stories see women dealing with violence, trauma, family conflicts, domesticity among other issues. The book was originally published as Mariam Austin othoba Hira Barua, which won the Sahithya Akademi Award in 2014. The English translation of this collection of short stories has been done by Ranjita Biswas.
A celebrated author from Assam, Arupa Patangia Kalita has been bestowed with many awards for her Assamese fiction. Her works of fiction explore the cultural landscape of her state and the lives of middle and lower-class people and especially narrate the stories of women living in these communities.
The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories
Nisha Susan's debut collection of short stories depicts how technology, particularly the internet, impact romantic relationships and intimacy between people. Trolls disturb the peace of mind of an author, a young woman finds a job monitoring content for a social media company, a classical musician finds a prince in an online chat room…
Author Nisha Susan has worked with many non-government organisations, Greenpeace and Tehelka. She owns a digital platform named Ladies Finger, which focuses on women's issues in society. Ladies Finger also collaborated with another women-led local language newspaper named Khabar Lahariya.
What We Know About Her
Yamuna is a young woman struggling to complete her PhD in early twentieth-century music in Tamil Nadu. She lives in her ancestral home Chingleput. While doing the research, she chances upon the story of Lathika, a Carnatic musician and her grandaunt. Yamuna finds a letter written by her grandmother to her grandfather which would reveal a secret about Lathika's life. She visits her grandfather in Banaras to get the letter, to know the old family secret, as no one in her family will talk to her about Lathika.
Krupa Ge came out with her debut novel in 2021. Before that she had written a non-fiction book, Rivers Remember. For the past 14 years, Ge has been doing reportage and cultural writings, which have been published in many reputed publications. Krupa Ge is also the recipient of the Laadli Award for her column on women in cinema. She co-wrote the screenplay for Sharing A Ride, based on a short story written by her, which has been directed by Leena Yadav and made part of an international anthology, Tell It Like A Woman.
Know more about the Women Writer's Prize 2021 here.