By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Brilliant and Visceral’The Pulitzer Prize-winning Demon Copperhead has won the American author Barbara Kingsolver the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction, as announced this evening at an event in London’s Bedford Square Gardens.
- In England, the book is published by Faber & Faber (October 18, 2022).
- In Kingsolver’s native United States, the book is a release from HarperCollins (Harper imprint, October 18, 2022).
Demon Copperhead, inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, is Kingsolver’s examination of poverty in the Appalachian South and the churning dimensions of the impact it has, specifically on young men caught in the opiate crisis, and the women who often try to help them but many times are lost to the very depravities they witness.
Class distinctions in a supposedly “classless” society form a major overhang of Kingsolver’s story, prompting Demon to say at one point, “You get to a point of not giving a damn over people thinking you’re worthless. Mainly by getting there first yourself.”
Readers who recall Kingsolver’s masterful 2009 The Lacuna (also HarperCollins in the States and Faber in the United Kingdom) will remember that she won the Women’s Prize for Fiction for it in 2010–the award then was called the Orange Prize for its name sponsor at the time.
Barbara Kingsolver has become tonight, then, the only a two-time winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Additionally, she was shortlisted in 2013 for her seventh novel, Flight Behavior, like Demon Copperhead, a book set in Appalachia and focused on the climate emergency and social structures of denial around it.
This time, she’s the recipient of a £30,000 cash prize (US#38,060), a purse made possible by an anonymous donor to this award regime. There’s also the bronze figurine, the Bessie, a limited-edition work of Grizel Niven.
In speaking to jury’s rationale for its selection, the panel’s chair this year, Louise Minchin, said, “Barbara Kingsolver has written a towering, deeply powerful, and significant book. In a year of outstanding fiction by women, we made a unanimous decision on Demon Copperhead as our winner. Brilliant and visceral, it’s storytelling by an author at the top of her game. We were all deeply moved by Demon, his gentle optimism, resilience, and determination despite everything being set against him.
“An exposé of modern America, its opioid crisis, and the detrimental treatment of deprived and maligned communities, Demon Copperhead tackles universal themes—from addiction and poverty, to family, love, and the power of friendship and art. It packs a triumphant emotional punch, and it is a novel that will withstand the test of time.”
Speaking about the book, Kingsolver is quoted, saying, “Mine is a modern retelling of David Copperfield, which Dickens wrote to protest the ravages of poverty on the children of his time. I wrote mine for the same reason.
“It was challenging and also fun to transpose Victorian characters and situations to my own place and time: a boarding school for indigent boys becomes a beleaguered tobacco farm where foster boys are brought in to do unpaid labor. A shoe-black factory is a meth lab. The dangerous friend Steerforth is now ‘Fast Forward,’ a high-school football star with a narcissistic streak.”
Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 Shortlist
At the time the shortlist was released for our coverage in late April, Kingsolver was the most prolific writer on the list, with 10 published novels, followed by Maggie O’Farrell, with nine.
|Name of Author
|Title of Novel
|Penguin Random House / Jonathan Cape
|Faber & Faber
|The Marriage Portrait
|Hachette UK / Tinder Press
The Women’s Prize for Fiction was launched 28 years ago by its founding director, Kate Mosse.
In February, the program announced that it is creating a second honor, the Women’s Prize for Nonfiction, with three years of funding promised by the Charlotte Aitken Trust. More from us on that news is here.
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 book and publishing market is here.