The Orange Prize for Fiction was established in the U.K. in 1996 to "[celebrate] excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world." And the list of past winners is littered with the recent female stalwarts of literary fiction; last year's prize went to Barbara Kingsolver for her sixth novel The Lacuna. This year, the BBC notes, three of the five authors on the shortlist are first-time novelists: Téa Obreht, a Serbian and, according to The Telegraph, "the youngest of this year's shortlisted," for her novel The Tiger's Wife, the London-based Emma Henderson for Grace Williams Says It Loud, and Canadian former Sesame Street writer Kathleen Winter, for Annabel. There are also, of course, veterans like the seemingly ever-more-acclaimed Nicole Krauss, who made the list with Great House.
A vigorous crop of new talent would certainly appear to be good news for the vitality of the profession. Out of the fifteen awards since The Orange Prize's establishment, only two have gone to first-time novels--in 1997 and 1999--and though the 1997 winner, Fugitive Pieces, was Anne Michaels's first novel, she was already well established as an award-winning poet. One of the judges, Bettany Hughes, has already commented favorably on the first-timers on the short list, calling the number of strong debut novels "an indicator of the rude health of women's writing." (Perhaps only coincindentally, this is the first Orange Prize shortlist announced since the Orange Award for New Writers was discontinued, according to a FAQ, because its £10,000 prize lost funding from the Arts Council.)