Thanks to the volunteers who have signed up to count literary prize data1 we now have more granular information coming in about literary prizes. And the more granular we get, the more interesting the picture becomes.
A couple of months ago I documented what appeared to be substantial gender bias in literary awards over the last fifteen years: even when women win prizes it’s likely to be for writing about men. The more prestigious the literary award, the more likely the subject of the narrative will be male. Those pie charts Indicated imbalance even if, say, a short story collection featuring a dozen men and one woman was counted as being equally about both.
But thanks to more people counting, we now have the ability to look deeper.
Here’s the most recent Man Booker longlist as an example2. This is an apparently diverse longlist: lots of writers of colour, with a preponderance of women: of the 13 books, 7 are by women and 6 by men.
When we take a look at the gender of the protagonists using my previous, simplified counting method (and comparable design and colours for the charts), this is what it looks like:
That ends up as 6 books about men, 4 books about women, 3 about both. Not parity. But better by far than the gender ratios of prize winners of the last 15 years. However, when we look deeper—when, for example, we take into account that one novel has 1 female protagonist and 3 male, and another has 0 female protagonists and 4 male–the picture looks a little different.
Even in this comparatively equal list, in which female authors outnumber male, 14 of the 21 protagonists, two thirds, are men. In other words, when it comes to the books deemed worthy of long-listing for a prestigious literary prize, both women and men tend to write about men more often than they write about women.3, 4
More data as and when it comes in.
1 We are looking for volunteers: to count, to spread the word, to collate. If you want to help, sign up for the Google group, Literary Prize Data.
2 As before, I welcome corrections. If you’ve read all the books, and by your count this is all wrong, please say so!
3 This design’s a bit different: for example, I’ve left out “Unknown,” and frankly forgot to label the pie segments. If you sign up for the Google group you can see the raw data. Sometime soon I’ll figure out a better, more clear way to present all this stuff.
4 Why? Well, I have some thoughts about that. See my interview with the Seattle Review of Books.