This morning the longlist was announced for the Orange Prize, given annually to the woman judged to have written the best full-length novel in English published in Britain in the past year. (The novelist herself can be of any nationality.) The Orange Prize has been the subject of controversy over the years, with some praising it for calling attention to women writers who might otherwise be marginalized and others criticizing it as sexist or patronizing. Regardless, the award is considered of major importance at least in Britain, and winning it can be a transforming experience in a writer's career. The longlist includes a lot of stellar names, led by Hilary Mantel, whose novel, Wolf Hall, won the Man Booker prize in Britain last year, and just last week won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction prize here in the US. American writers on this year's Orange Prize longlist include Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna, set partially here in Asheville), Lorrie Moore (The Gate at the Stairs) and Kathryn Stockett (The Help).
The shortlist -- or finalists -- for the Orange Prize will be announced in April, and the winner in June. The complete longlist can be found at the Orange Prize website.