Britain's Smith wins award for gender-bending 'How to Be Both'

Wed Jun 3, 2015 4:05pm EDT
 
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Scottish-born author Ali Smith won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction on Wednesday for her gender-bending novel "How to Be Both" that explores issues of sexual identity from Renaissance times to the present.

Smith's sixth novel, which had been shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, focuses on an Italian Renaissance painter who disguises herself as a man in order to pursue her artistic passions, and on a modern teenage girl named George grappling with the death of her mother and with her emerging sexuality.

“Ancient and modern meet and speak to each other in this tender, brilliant and witty novel of grief, love, sexuality and shape-shifting identity,” Chair of Judges Shami Chakrabarti said in a statement announcing the winner.

The prize, awarded to a work of fiction written in English by a woman anywhere in the world, carries a 30,000 pound ($46,000) cash prize.

"It's quite amazing, I'm in shock," Smith told Reuters after the award was announced. "That's my first response and my only response -- it's lovely."

Smith's critically well received book intertwines the story of the actual Renaissance artist Francesco del Cossa, who disguised her femininity in order to create frescoes in a palazzo in Ferrara, and the fictional George, who is struggling to cope with the sudden death of her mother, with whom she had travelled to Italy to see del Cossa's works.

The book has the added twist of coming in two editions, one of which begins with del Cossa's story and the other with George's.

Smith said that novels "are always about time" and that in hers she'd attempted to link events of 500 years ago to the present.   Continued...

 
Ali Smith, Nominee in the 2014 Costa Book Awards and winner of the Costa Novel Award category, poses with her book "How to be Both" prior to the announcement of the overall winner, in London, January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls