Pulitzer Prize

Chart of the Day: Novels about men are more likely to win major literary awards

According to an analysis by author Nicola Griffith, women are more likely to win literary awards for fiction when their protagonist is a man. The more prestigious the award, the less likely the subject will be a woman.

Griffith broke down the gender of the author and protagonist for 15 years worth of winners of six major fiction awards: Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics’ Circle Award, Hugo Award, and Newbery Medal. At the top of the heap, the prestigious Pulitzer was not once bestowed on a book wholly from a woman’s perspective or about a woman. Things were different for the Newbery, awarded for children’s fiction — apparently girls are interesting, but adult women not so much.

Pulitzer Prize

Griffith hopes that this kind of data — like the VIDA Count — will spur a commitment to actually fix the skewed publishing landscape, instead of just calling it depressing and leaving it at that. “Literature matters,” she argues in her reflection. “[Our novels] are part of what makes us who we are. If more than half human perspective isn’t being heard, then we are half what we could be. Stories subtly influence attitudes. If women’s perspectives aren’t folded into the mix, attitudes don’t move with the whole human race—just half of it.”

Chloe recently wrote about her decision to read only books written by women this year. When it comes to novels, in particular, paying attention to the gender of the protagonist — whose perspective, in the best fiction, we come to understand intimately and empathize with — may be even more important.

Check out the rest of Griffith’s pie charts here.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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