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Winning Women Writers: Prizes, awards and recognitions
from BookWomen, August-September, 2010
Barbara Kingsolver, right, receives the 2010 Orange Prize for fiction.

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Orange Prize
Barbara Kingsolver's first novel in nine years, The Lacuna, received the 2010 Orange Prize for best novel in English written by a woman.

The genesis for "The Lacuna" was the criticism and hate Kingsolver received when she spoke out for contemplation and dissent after 9/11. "Magazines and newspapers printed horrible things, they misquoted me, made me a figure of hatred," she told the Guardian. "It was so frightening. Awful. I was scared that my family might be at risk. It was really one of the worst times of my life. A dark, dark winter."

She thought perhaps she would stop writing. But then people started telling her how her words gave them hope, and she began to envision the story that became "The Lacuna."

She said she started the book with "a series of questions. I was very interested in national character and why art and politics have such an uneasy relationship in my country, and why we're so nervous about self-criticism." The anti-communist witch-hunts of the late '40s and early '50s, which feature in the novel, were a key piece of the puzzle for her. The U.S. "lost something in that era that we still haven't gotten back. I think we're still dealing with the damage," she said.

The Orange Prize for fiction was created in 1995 in response to a growing awareness that too often the achievements of women novelists were being passed over by the major literary prizes. The prize is judged exclusively by women.

Looking back Speaking of the Orange Prize, this is its 15th year, and to mark the anniversary, the prize invited readers to vote on their favorite of all the winners. The readers' choice: We Need To Talk about Kevin, the haunting novel about a teenaged mass murderer, by Lionel Shriver (yes, Lionel is a woman), which gained the Prize in 2005.

"OK, it's official," said Shriver at the award ceremony. "Kevin no longer belongs to me, but to you lot. While I am abashed at this honor, Kevin himself is smugly self-satisfied. Think of all the attention that one school mass murder has earned that guy."

A close second choice was Andrea Levy's Small Island, the 2004 winner.

For a panel of teen readers, however, the favorite Orange Prize title was Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (the 1997 winner). "Fugitive Pieces is a discussion of history, a serious inquiry into events and their consequences—what love makes us capable of, and incapable of," Michaels said. "And it is a discussion of the deepest responsibilities of memory. That these questions have been embraced by the minds and hearts of young readers—the youth that is taking its place in the world—is utterly hopeful. I could not wish for a more meaningful honor."

Narrative approach to history
The historian Natalie Zemon Davis, probably best known for her work The Return of Martin Guerre, won Norway's 4.5 million kroner ($680,000) Holberg Prize for her narrative approach to history, the New York Times reported.

The awards committee said that Davis, now 81, won for showing "how particular events can be narrated and analyzed so as to reveal deeper historical tendencies and underlying patterns of thought and action." Davis helped create what is known as "microhistory," which attempts to investigate historical themes through individual episodes.

"My work has quite a range and some of it is narrative in the sense that it's storytelling," Davis has said. "I try very hard to make people come alive in the writing, because I feel I owe it to them to see the world, to see it as they saw it."

The Holberg Prize was created in 2003 by the Norwegian government to honor work in the humanities, social sciences, law and theology.

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