The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction: Centering Women’s Voices in the Literary World

By Laura DeMarco on March 17, 2021

“There are chapters in every life which are seldom read, and certainly not aloud.”

 

So wrote Carol Shields in her award-winning novel, The Stone Diaries. And like many great authors, she was right in more ways than one. Specifically, the “seldom read” chapters are often those written by women. Throughout her long and lauded career, Shields had an unmatched commitment to highlighting the voices and work of women writers. In her memory the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction has been created to acknowledge, celebrate and promote women writers from America and Canada 

First, who was Carol Shields?

Carol Shields was one of the most prolific and versatile writers of the 20th century. She wrote numerous pieces in various mediums, including novels, plays, essays, and much more. Among her numerous accomplishments, Shields received a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for her book The Stone Diaries and a Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 1997 for her novel Larry’s Party.

 

Shields also partnered with Marjorie Anderson to edit Dropped Threads, an anthology of essays written by women for women, which featured personal experiences that the writers had never previously shared with others. Dropped Threads encompasses precisely what the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction is all about: promoting diverse perspectives in a male-dominated world.

 

Why promote women authors?

It may be hard to believe, given the variety in genres and the rise of self-publishing sites like MindStir Media and Lulu Publishing, but literature as a field sorely lacks inclusivity. The lack of the female perspectives leads to the perpetuation of sexist tropes at the expense of women’s literary voices. Stories by and for women are considered to be exclusively for women and are therefore dismissed. This phenomenon, which the Guardian calls the “male glance,” diminishes women’s stories to domestic and vain, while stories about men are hailed as classic literature that everyone needs to read. Readers are trained to identify with male characters--even toxic ones--and to pick apart female characters. Broadly speaking, the idea that women’s stories are vapid, empty, and uninteresting has become the default assumption.

 

How will the Carol Shields Prize Foster Change?

The Carol Shields Prize for Fiction aims to correct these failings and give a platform to writers who might otherwise struggle to be seen. The first award of its kind, the Prize rewards creativity and talent among female writers in the United States and Canada and promotes up-and-coming writers. The Prize, funded by Melinda Gates’s investment company, Pivotal Ventures, will award the winner $150,000 to support their writing career. In addition, the Carol Shields Prize board will provide mentorship opportunities supported by prominent female writers, including Margaret Atwood and Ann Patchett, among others.

 

Recommendations

This Women’s History Month, celebrate women authors and storytellers with these great recommendations from Well-Read Black Girl and RepresentWomen.

 

Here are some of Well-Read Black Girl’s recommendations:

  1. When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
  2. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Baron
  3. Luster by Raven Leilani
  4. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor

 

And here are some of mine:

  1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  2. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
  3. Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow (Trigger warning: self-harm, addiction, sexual assault, suicide, hospitalization)




Laura is a Spring 2021 administration and development intern for RepresentWomen. She is currently a student at the University of Maryland studying for a degree in communication.