The Literary Prize Data group, formed just under a month ago, is up and running. Running fast! We have over 50 members on 3 continents with a wide range of skills and experience. We’re all unpaid. But we’re doing this because it’s necessary: not only do women win fewer prestigious literary prizes than men, we are even less likely to win if we write about women. The net result is that women’s perspectives are being left out of the vast, cultural engine that is literature. Literature—the stories we tell—forms the backbone of who we believe ourselves to be, and how our society could be. This matters.

Every week I send an update to the group of the big picture as I see it. It occurred to me that others might be interested, too.

The purpose of the Literary Prize Data group is to assemble data on English-language literary prizes to get a picture of how gender bias operates within that ecosystem.

I suspect this remit will change and grow with time—some possibilities include extending to other parts of the publishing sphere, and to varieties of intersectional bias—but for now, while we build our systems, we’re firmly focused on literary prizes and on gender.

This involves:

  • Counting longlists, shortlists, and winners of literary prizes in terms of the gender of both authors and their protagonists (that is, POV character)
  • Inputting that data into a powerful, well-designed database
  • Using that database to output charts and summaries
  • Publicising those charts and summaries

To that end, so far we have:

  • Assembled good, solid data on 2 awards, Man Booker and Edgar (novel), and have members working on many others, including:
    • Saltire
    • Asian Man Booker
    • Hugo
    • Nebula
    • Carnegie
    • Campbell Memorial
    • Bailey’s/Women’s Prize
    • Australian and New Zealand awards
  • Put together a spreadsheet template in two formats (one vertical and web-based, for mobile use; one horizontal, for home use) for members to use when gathering the data
  • Built a nifty visualisation library based on Exhibit
  • Started planning a powerful database which will be public and checkable, and hosted by MIT
  • Begun discussion of quantifiable guidelines for categorising protagonists

Many of us now have our hands full, counting or building, but I can see more on our immediate horizon. Tasks ahead of us:

  • Turn our attention to sharing the data as we get it, to which end:
    • identify members willing to create charts and other graphics
    • choose a URL and where to host
  • Half a hundred other things—systems to seek and implement corrections; social media wrangling; outreach to other organisations, etc—and ways to decide, prioritise, and execute all those things

Much of this involves vast amounts of hidden work. There’s always more to be done, of course. If you feel able to help with anything I’ve listed, please consider joining the group, or email me privately. We’re figuring out ways to chunk the tasks so that small groups can work together on one prize: no one works alone! As I’ve said, our remit will probably change and grow over time. For now, though, our we remain focused on gender and literary prizes.

For a group of people who have never met in person, come from widely varied backgrounds, and bring a huge mix of skills and perspectives, I think the group is doing incredible work. I am delighted, amazed, and grateful.

Thank you.