Barbara Kingsolver Wins the UK’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The American author Barbara Kingsolver has become the only writer to win the United Kingdom’s Women’s Prize for Fiction twice.

Barbara Kingsolver at the Women’s Prize for Fiction awards program in London. Image: Women’s Prize for Fiction

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.

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.

UK cover, Faber

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.

US cover, Harper

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

The 2023 shortlistees of the Women’s Prize for fiction, from left: Barbara Kingsolver; Jacqueline Crooks; Priscilla Morris; Laline Paull; Louise Kennedy; and Maggie O’Farrell. Image: Women’s Prize for Fiction

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 Publishing Imprint Nationality
Jacqueline Crooks Fire Rush Penguin Random House / Jonathan Cape British
Louise Kennedy Trespasses Bloomsbury Circus Irish
Barbara Kingsolver Demon Copperhead Faber & Faber American
Priscilla Morris Black Butterflies Duckworth Books British
Maggie O’Farrell The Marriage Portrait Hachette UK / Tinder Press British
Laline Paull Pod Corsair British

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.

Jurors for the 2023 edition of the Women’s Prize for Fiction are, from left, Rachel Joyce, Irenosen Okojie, chair Louise Minchin, Tulip Siddiq, and Bella Mackie. Image: Women’s Prize for Fiction

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

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

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.