In London, Ruth Ozeki Wins the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Ruth Ozeki, based in Massachusetts, wins the Women’s Prize for Fiction for her fourth novel, ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness.’

Ruth Ozeki at the Women’s Prize for Fiction award ceremony in London. The ‘Bessie’ is the Grizel Niven limited-edition bronze presented to winners of the prize, along with £30,000. Image: Women’s Prize for Fiction

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

Sieghart: ‘A Truly Original and Masterful Storyteller’
As has been announced this evening at an awards ceremony in central London’s Bedford Square Gardens, the American-Canadian author Ruth Ozeki has won the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her fourth novel The Book of Form and Emptiness, published in the United Kingdom by Jamie Byng’s Edinburgh-based Canongate Books (September 2021) and in the United States by Penguin Random House/Viking (September 2021).

Ozeki receives the Women’s Prize purse of £30,000 (US$36,186) and the Bessie, a limited-edition bronze figurine created by Grizel Niven.

In voicing the jury’s rationale, the chair of this year’s jurors, Mary Ann Sieghart, is quoted, saying, “In an extraordinary year for fiction written by women, and from an incredibly strong shortlist, we were thrilled to choose Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, which stood out for its sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy.

The UK cover design for Canongate Books

“A celebration of the power of books and reading, it tackles big issues of life and death, and is a complete joy to read.

“Ruth Ozeki is a truly original and masterful storyteller.”

In The Book of Form and Emptiness, 14-year-old Benny Oh, who begins to hear the voices of things in his home following the death of his father. He’s led to a book, which helps him replace the voices with a narration of his own life.

By its statement of intention, the Women’s Prize has a strong internationalist position, being open to “outstanding, ambitious, original fiction written in English by women from anywhere in the world.” This was reflected in the shortlist (below), which included with Ozeki, one author from the United Kingdom (Shafak), one from Trinidad (Lisa Allen-Agostini), one from New Zealand (Meg Mason) and three from the States (Louise Erdrich, Maggie Shipstead, and Ozeki).

The US cover design by Lucia Bernard for the Penguin Random House/Viking edition

A Soto Zen lineage Buddhist priest, Ozeki was shortlisted in 2013 for the then-named Man Booker Prize for A Tale for the Time Being, (Canongate in the UK and Penguin Random House in the States),  which reportedly has been translated into 28 languages.

A filmmaker as well as a writer, she’s based in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities, teaching English and literature at Northampton’s Smith College, from which she graduated, herself, in 1980.

Ozeki’s husband is Oliver Kellhammer, an environmental artist, and they divide their time between Northampton, New York City, and Whaletown, in Canada’s British Columbia. She received an honorary doctorate from Smith in 2006. Her independent film work includes Halving the Bones (1995) and Body of Correspondence (1994), seen at Sundance and on public television.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 Shortlist

Five of the six shortlisted authors at the Women’s Prize for Fiction awards ceremony. From left: Elif Shafak; Ruth Ozeki; Lisa Allen-Agostini; Meg Mason; and Maggie Shipstead. Also shortlisted: Louise Erdrich. Image: Women’s Prize for Fiction

Reiterating for you here from our earlier story the shortlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, it’s interesting to note that none of the shortlistees had made an earlier appearance on the shortlist. Elif Shafak had been longlisted in the past but not shortlisted.

What’s more, Shafak—whose sheer ubiquity in industry events can make her seem a wildly prolific author—has 12 books in publication, while Erdrich, the 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize laureate, has published 23 books. Lisa Allen-Agostini’s The Bread the Devil Knead is the author’s debut publication.

Author Title Imprint Nationality
Lisa Allen-Agostini The Bread the Devil Knead Myriad Editions Trinidad
Louise Erdrich The Sentence Hachette/Corsair United States
Meg Mason Sorrow and Bliss Hachette/Weidenfeld & Nicolson New Zealand
Ruth Ozeki The Book of Form and Emptiness Canongate Books United States/Canada
Elif Shafak The Island of Missing Trees Penguin Random House/Viking Turkey/United Kingdom
Maggie Shipstead Great Circle Penguin Random House/Doubleday United States

This year’s jury, in addition to Sieghart, comprised:

  • Lorraine Candy, journalist and editor
  • Dorothy Koomson, novelist, journalist, and podcaster
  • Anita Sethi, author and literary journalist
  • Pandora Sykes, journalist, broadcaster, and author

Wednesday evening’s event in London was hosted by the program’s founding director Kate Mosse.

Because you may recall this 27-year-old awards regime by its previous names, it’s good to review the fact that prior to 2018, the award was known as the Orange Prize for Fiction. It bore that name (for its sponsorship) between 1996 and 2012, then with a change in sponsorship was called the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction from 2013 to 2017.

Since 2018, the Women’s Prize for Fiction has been supported by a family of sponsors, a group of leading brands and businesses from different sectors, rather than by a single title sponsor. As such, it has set aside the tradition of carrying a sponsor’s name as its own.

The 2022 Prize is supported by Baileys and Audible.

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 109th awards-related report produced in the 111 publication days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards programs is here. More from us on the Women’s Prize for Fiction is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s awards-heavy book and publishing market is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing 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 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.