The books by female authors you have to read in 2021

16 books have been longlisted for this year's Women's Prize for Fiction

16 books have been longlisted for this year's Women's Prize for Fiction - Credit: Sam Holden Agency

This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been revealed - and one of East Anglia’s very own has made the cut.   

Ali Smith, who was appointed as a Writing Fellow with the UEA Creative Writing programme in 1999, has been longlisted for her 2020 book, Summer. 

Close-up image of woman turning page of book in her hands

16 books have been longlisted in this year's awards - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The four-time shortlisted Man Booker Prize author returned to UEA in 2013 UNESCO City of Literature Visiting Professor, and in 2015 she spoke at UEA’s Spring Literary Festival. Her ties with UEA don’t stop there however, as she later received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from UEA in 2016. 

Ali’s nomination this year comes after her 2015 win, in which she took home the Women’s Prize for Fiction award for her book How to be Both. Prior to this, she was also shortlisted in 2001 and 2006 for her works Hotel World and The Accidental respectively, and longlisted in 2012 for There But For The.  

Ali Smith, who has a long-established relationship with Norwich's UEA, is one of 16 authors longlisted in this year's awards

Ali Smith, who has a long-established relationship with Norwich's UEA, is one of 16 authors longlisted in this year's awards - Credit: Sarah Wood

Ali is one of 16 writers hoping to take home the win this year in the 26th edition of the awards, which shines a spotlight on original fiction written in English by women from across the globe. 

Established in 1996, the Women’s Prize for Fiction was set up in order to celebrate a wide variety of female-written fiction. To be eligible for entry for this year’s awards, books must have been published in the UK between April 1 2020 and March 21 2021. Any woman writing in English – whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter – is eligible. 

This year’s judging panel is chaired by novelist Bernadine Evaristo, who previously devised and taught University of East Anglia’s six-month fiction writing course, ‘How to Tell a Story’, for four seasons between 2011 and 2015.

Summer by Ali Smith is her fifth entry in the Women's Prize for Fiction

Summer by Ali Smith is her fifth entry in the Women's Prize for Fiction - Credit: Penguin Random House

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Commenting on this year’s entrants, she said: “We read so many brilliant novels for this year’s prize and had an energetic judging session where we discussed our passions, opinions and preferences.  

“Sadly, we had to let some very deserving books go but we’re confident that we have chosen sixteen standout novels that represent a truly wide and varied range of fiction by women that reflects multiple perspectives, narrative styles and preoccupations. These novels fascinated, moved, inspired and challenged us and we’re excited at announcing their inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist.” 

Bernadine is joined on the judging panel by podcaster, author and journalist Elizabeth Day; TV and radio presenter, journalist and writer Vick Hope; print columnist and writer Nesrine Malik; and news presenter and broadcaster Sarah-Jane Mee. 

The panel of judges will narrow down the 16-book longlist to a shortlist of six, due to be announced on Wednesday April 28.  

The winner will then be announced on Wednesday July 7 at an awards ceremony in central London, where the author will receive an anonymously endowed cheque for £30,000 and a limited-edition bronze figurine known as a ‘Bessie’, created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven. 

Judge Bernardine Evaristo, who previously taught fiction writing at UEA

Judge Bernardine Evaristo, who previously taught fiction writing at UEA - Credit: Jennie Scott

The full Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist for 2021 is as follows:  

The Vanishing Half; Brit Bennett 

American author Brit Bennett’s book The Vanishing Half follows the parallel lives of a pair of estranged twin sisters who live in two very different worlds. Riveting and emotional, the story looks at race and the American history of passing.  

Small Pleasures; Clare Chambers 

Set in 1950s England, Small Pleasures is a mystery and love story that follows Jean, a local journalist who covers the incredible tale of a woman who claims to have been a virgin when she gave birth to her daughter. 

Piranesi; Susanna Clarke 

One for fantasy fans, author Susanna Clarke’s second novel tells the story of Piranesi, who lives in a place called the House - a collection of seemingly infinite halls and vestibules, filled with statues. But there is someone new in the House - who are they and what do they want? 

The Golden Rule; Amanda Craig 

Amanda Craig’s The Golden Rule is partly about stories – which stories to believe, which to follow, and which ones mould our character and values. Can our story be changed through an act of will? Can we believe that it has only one direction – or can life have multiple beginnings and paths? 

Exciting Times; Naoise Dolan 

Penned by Irish author Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times is a slyly humorous and smart modern love story about three cynics in Hong Kong, with strong themes of money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections. 

Burnt Sugar; Avni Doshi 

Both a love story and a story about betrayal, Avni Doshi’s sharp and witty Burnt Sugar follows a mother and daughter, gradually untangling the knot of memory and myth that binds the two women together, revealing the truth that lies beneath. 

Because of You; Dawn French 

Famed writer, comedian and actor Dawn French returns with her first novel in five years. Wise and poignant, Because of You is a story about mothers and daughter, love and loss, mistakes and regrets, and family bonds.  

Unsettled Ground; Claire Fuller 

Unsettled Ground is a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power how the truths closest to us are often hardest to see.  

Transcendent Kingdom; Yaa Gyasi 

Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty, who as a child would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two – and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away. 

How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House; Cherie Jones 

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House is the story of three marriages, and of a beautiful island paradise where, beyond the white sand beaches and the wealthy tourists, lies poverty, menacing violence and the story of the sacrifices some women make to survive. 

Luster; Raven Leilani 

Razor sharp, provocatively page-turning and full of heart, Raven Leilani's Luster is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now. 

No One Is Talking About This; Patricia Lockwood 

Sincere and delightfully profane, No One Is Talking About This is a love letter to the infinite scroll and a meditation on love, language and human connection from one of the most original voices of our times. 

Consent; Annabel Lyon 

Annabel Lyon’s Consent follows sisters and their knotty relationships, of predatory men and sexual power, of retribution and the thrilling possibilities of revenge. 

Nothing But Blue Sky; Kathleen McMahon 

Kathleen MacMahon’s third novel Nothing But Blue Sky follows David, whose wife Mary Rose suddenly dies. Figuring out who Mary Rose really was and the secrets that she kept – some of these hidden in plain sight – makes David wonder if he really knew her. Did he even know himself? 

Detransition, Baby; Torrey Peters 

A unique take on love, motherhood, and those exes you just can't quit, Torrey Peters’ novel Detransition, Baby has been described as a landmark piece of trans literature that is both brutally honest and incredibly sensitive by fellow author Juliet Jacques. 

Summer; Ali Smith 

Summer is the conclusion to Ali Smith’s Seasonal quartet, and is a story about people on the brink of change. Sacha and Robert are family – but they think they’re strangers. Where does family begin, and what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common?  

To find out more about the Women's Prize for Fiction, visit the website.