Nonfiction book publishing is dominated by men. A new prize hopes to help change that

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LONDON (AP) — Go into many bookstores, and the nonfiction shelves will be dominated by men.

The Women’s Prize for Nonfiction hopes to change that.

“Nonfiction is still perceived to some extent as a man’s game,” said British historian Suzannah Lipscomb, who is chairing the judging panel for the inaugural edition of the U.K.-based prize. The judges announced a list of 16 contenders for the 30,000 pound ($38,000) award on Thursday.

An offshoot of the 28-year-old Women’s Prize for Fiction, whose past winners include Zadie Smith, Tayari Jones and Barbara Kingsolver, the new prize is open to female English-language writers from any country in any nonfiction genre.

Lipscomb noted that in 2022, only 26.5% of nonfiction books reviewed in Britain’s newspapers were by women, and male writers dominated established nonfiction writing prizes.

“In all the ways that we recognize expertise and authority — giving it exposure, giving it attention, sales, money earned by the authors — women were not featuring as highly as their male counterparts,” she said. “So I think that we do still need to close what (journalist) Mary Ann Sieghart called the authority gap. And that’s why this prize is needed.”

The company Nielsen Book Research found in 2019 that women bought 59% of all the books sold in the U.K., but men accounted for just over half of adult nonfiction purchases.

Authors from the United States, Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, the Philippines and the U.K. are on the prize longlist, chosen from 120 books submitted by publishers.

They include author-activist Naomi Klein ’s plunge into online misinformation, “Doppleganger,” and journalist Patricia Evangelista’s “Some People Need Killing,” a searing investigation of the Philippines’ drug war.

There are works by leading academics and books on science and technology, including Cat Bohannon’s “Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution” and Madhumita Murgia’s “Code-Dependent: Living in the Shadow of AI.”

The list spans genres including travelogue (Alice Albinia’s “The Britannias: An Island Quest”), history (Leah Redmond Chang’s Renaissance study “Young Queens”), biography (Anna Funder’s “Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell’s Invisible Life”) and autobiography (Safiya Sinclair’s “How to Say Babylon: A Jamaican Memoir”).

Asked what unites the disparate roster, Lipscomb quotes a line from Funder’s book: “The project of good writing is to reveal to us the world we thought we knew.”

“There is a trend towards redressing wrongs, telling untold stories, exposing truths, revealing hypocrisies,” she said. “That sense of making good comes out of them.”

Six finalists for the nonfiction award will be announced on March 27, and the winner will be unveiled at a ceremony in London on June 13.

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