Kamila Shamsie Wins £30,000 Women’s Prize for Fiction

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In the year that Kamila Shamsie once proposed as a ‘Year of Publishing Women,’ the Pakistani-British author has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 for ‘Home Fire’ in London.

2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Kamila Shamsie is seen here with jury chair Sarah Sands. Image: AACL.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘A Remarkable Book We Passionately Recommend’

The third time has proved to be the charm for author Kamila Shamsie, whose novel, Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus), has been named the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction winner at the June 6 award ceremony in central London’s Bedford Square Gardens.

Shamsie was previously shortlisted twice for the prize for Burnt Shadows in 2009 and in 2015 for A God in Every Stone.

As Publishing Perspectives has reported, the 2018 prize is operating under its own name, with Baileys back as one of a trio of sponsors with NatWest and Deloitte.

In the awards-crowded UK market, the Women’s Prize for Fiction stands with the Man Booker prizes and the Costa as a leader in the industry’s recognition of powerful fiction.

Established in 1996 to celebrate and promote international fiction by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded to a novel written by a woman in English—whatever the author’s nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter—is eligible.

“In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics.”Sarah Sands

The winner receives an anonymously endowed cash award of £30,000 (US$40,286) and a limited edition bronze figurine known as a “Bessie,” created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven.

In her statement of rationale for the juror, BBC Radio 4’s Sarah Sands, who chaired the panel this year, is quoted, saying, “This was a dazzling shortlist, it had depth and richness and variety. We were forcibly struck by the quality of the prose. Each book had its champions.

“We loved the originality of mermaids and courtesans, we were awed by the lyrical truth of an American road trip which serves as a commentary of the history of race in America, we discussed into the night the fine and dignified treatment of a woman’s domestic abuse, we laughed over a student’s rite of passage and we experienced the truth of losing a parent and loving a child.

“In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.”

From left, shortlisted authors at the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction ceremony are Meena Kandasamy (‘When I Hit You’), Imogen Hermes Gowar (‘The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock’) winner Kamila Shamsie (‘Home Fire’), and Jesmyn Ward (‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’). Image: WPFF

Timeliness: 2018 as Shamsie’s ‘A Year of Publishing Women’

Home Fire resets Sophocles’ masterwork Antigone, in describing the development of a family wracked by competing forces of love, politics and faith.

It has been named a 2017 book of the year by The New York Times, the Evening Standard, the New Statesman, The Telegraph, The Observer, and The Guardian, and was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award.

And many will realize there’s a poetic sweetness to the fact that just as the award becomes known properly as the Women’s Prize for Fiction, it has gone to the seven-book author who three years ago, in June 2015, called for 2018 to be a “Year of Publishing Women” to help the industry redress its gender imbalance and dedicated awards attention to female authors.

More recently, in March, she contributed to PEN International’s Women’s Manifesto, which stated, in part, “Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.”

Shamsie, raised in Karachi and now living in London, is also known as being a supportive presence for her fellow writers and their working conditions, calling for industry unity, as reported by Tom Tivnan, in December 2015 at The Bookseller’s Author Day event in London.

She said then that while publishers need to think about profitability, a kind of “steady status quo” means they remain focused on “only the authors who are the hare and not the tortoise.”

Most recently, Shamsie has been the juror who selected Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient as the 1990s’ shortlisted candidate for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction’s 50th anniversary “Golden Man Booker” prize, to be announced in July.

The remainder of the shortlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction comprised:

  • Elif Batuman, American, The Idiot, her first novel (Jonathan Cape)
  • Imogen Hermes Gowar, British, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, her first novel (Harvill Secker)
  • Jessie Greengrass, British, Sight, her first novel (John Murray)
  • Meena Kandasamy, Indian, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, her second novel (Atlantic Books)
  • Jesmyn Ward, American, Sing, Unburied, Sing, third novel, (Bloomsbury Circus)

Jurors joining Sands this year were:

  • Anita Anand, journalist
  • Katy Brand, writer, comedian and author
  • Catherine Mayer, journalist, author, and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party
  • Imogen Stubbs, actress

The prize patrons comprise Dame Gillian Beer DBE, Rosie Boycott, Liz Calder, Shami Chakrabarti CBE, Helen Fraser CBE, Fi Glover, Daisy Goodwin, Muriel Gray, Bettany Hughes, Paula Kahn, Martha Kearney, Jude Kelly OBE, Helena Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC FRSA, Kirsty Lang, Sue MacGregor CBE, Sheena McDonald, Dame Jenni Murray DBE, Penny Perrick, Dame Gail Rebuck DBE, Miranda Richardson, Tessa Ross CBE, Gillian Shephard, Baroness Shephard of Northwold, Ahdaf Soueif, Sandi Toksvig, Polly Toynbee, Joanna Trollope OBE and Lola Young, Baroness Young of Hornsey OBE.

And its founding patrons are Kate Mosse OBE, Clare Alexander, Jane Gregory, Susan Sandon and Carole Welch.

The program’s board includes Joanna Prior (chair), Alison Barrow, Felicity Blunt (company secretary), Annie Coleman, Harriet Hastings (managing director), Karen Jones CBE, Louise Jury, Sandeep Mahal, Kate Mosse OBE, Anna Rafferty and Syl Saller.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Women’s Prize for Fiction is here. And more on book awards is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.