marginalia

Marginalia: The Recent Fall of the Female Protagonist in Literary Fiction

Setting aside the thorny issues and controversies related to awards for literary works as a discussion for another time, it’s worth noting that, of the two most well-known awards for fictional works, over the last 12-13 years, only 27% had female protagonists. And, while there are many possible contributing variables, let’s simply look through the numbers first.

From 2000-2013, the Pulitzer and Booker Prizes for fiction were awarded to 26 books — the Pulitzer did not award in 2012 and the Booker 2013 is TBA.

Of these 26 awards, only 7 had female protagonists. 2 out of these 7 had both male and female protagonists. And, 5 out of these 7 books were authored by women, including the 2 that had both male and female protagonists (another interesting, though likely uncorrelated, fact: both these latter books — a Pulitzer winner and a Booker winner — were written by Indian women).

Of the rest of the 19 books with male protagonists, only 5 were created by women authors. And, of those latter 5, 3 were based on real-life men vs fictional.

This is not to say that there isn’t good literary fiction being created with female protagonists. But, clearly, the bias, at least by those who judge these most prestigious literary awards, has shifted markedly to male protagonists written by men. And that there is a strong correlation between the  author and protagonist genders.

Why so? This question has been on my mind for the past few days as I’ve been putting together my personal list of favorite protagonists and comparing to these award-winners (no motive other than my own amusement).

2000-2013-Booker-Pulitzer

(click image to see larger view)

Sources:

1) Pulitzer Prizes | Fiction

2) The Man Booker Prizes


Added on September 4, 2013

Even the Nobel Prize for Literature does not escape the author gender issue.

Since 1901, a total of 109 individuals have won the Nobel prize for literature, 12 of them women.

That’s a paltry 11%. Words fail me.

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