Six Penguin authors on Women’s Prize 2021 longlist

Avni Doshi, Dawn French, Ali Smith, Yaa Gyasi, Claire Fuller and Kathleen MacMahon share their reactions to being nominated for one of literature's most prestigious awards.

A flatlay of Penguin books longlisted for the women's prize
Books longlisted for the 2021 Women's Prize. Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

Mother-daughter relationships, the migrant crisis and the impact of grief are among the themes of six Penguin Random House novels that have been longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. 

Because of You by Dawn French (Michael Joseph); Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton); Kathleen MacMahon’s Nothing But Blue Sky (Sandycove Press); Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Viking Books); Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground (Fig Tree) and Summer (Hamish Hamilton), the last book in Ali Smith’s Seasonal series have made the 16-strong list.

Chair of judges Bernardine Evaristo said: "We read so many brilliant novels for this year's prize and had an energetic judging sessions where we discussed our passions, opinions and preferences.

"We're confident that we have chosen 16 standout novels that represent a truly wide and varied range of fiction by women that reflects multiple perspectives, narrative styles and preoccupations," Evaristo continued. These novels fascinated, moved, inspired and challenged us."

“So many writers I admire have been longlisted in the past, it feels unbelievable and so thrilling to join their company”, Doshi told Penguin.co.uk. Her debut novel, Burnt Sugar, was nominated for The Booker Prize last year for its searing presentation of the relationships between three generations of women in Pune, India.

Because of You, which was a bestseller after being released in October, is French's fourth novel. The book examines the aftermath of the birth of two daughters, in the same hospital, 17 years before. French said she was "gobsmacked and delighted" at the longlisting.

“I'm absolutely thrilled,” said Fuller. “It's a prize I've been following for many years and one that I always know will introduce me to lots of wonderful stories. I'm very flattered that this year, my novel will be amongst them.” Unsettled Ground is Fuller’s fourth novel; her debut, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliot Prize in 2015.

"The process of writing a novel can feel a bit like a round-the-world solo yacht race. An acknowledgement like this from the judges of the Women’s Prize is a big wave from a passing ship. It breaks the solitude and makes the journey ahead seem worthwhile," said MacMahon. Her third novel, Nothing But Blue Sky, examines the binds between a couple in marriage.

This year marks the fourth longlist inclusion for Smith, who won the prize in 2015 for her novel, How to be Both. "I couldn't be happier to be on this list," she says – it is the first of her four Seasonal novels to be acknowledged by the Women’s Prize.

The remaining authors on the longlist are: Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half (Dialogue Books); Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures (Weidenfeld & Nicolson); Susanna Clarke – Piranesi (Bloomsbury Publishing); Amanda Craig – The Golden Rule (Little, Brown); Naoise Dolan – Exciting Times (Weidenfeld & Nicolson); Claire Fuller – Unsettled Ground (Fig Tree); Cherie Jones – How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House (Tinder Press); Raven Leilani – Luster (Picador); Patricia Lockwood – No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus); Annabel Lyon – Consent (Atlantic Books) and Torrey Peters – Detransition, Baby (Serpent’s Tail).

The shortlist for the Women's Prize for fiction will be announced on 28 April, before the winner will be revealed on 7 July.

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