Women’s Prize launches series to recognise female writers published under male pseudonyms

Throughout history, many female authors have felt compelled to assume male pen names. The decision was often made in order to give them a greater chance of being published, and to have their books read by the same standards as their male counterparts.

While it’s a practice that has largely faded, plenty of female authors do still adopt more masculine sounding names today, the most famous recent example being Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. She told CNN in 2017 her full name wasn’t used “because my publisher who published Harry Potter – they said to me, ‘We think this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls’… and they said, ‘Could we use your initials?’ Because basically they were trying to disguise my gender.”

Clearly, there is still some way to go in making the world of books equitable.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>There are 25 books in the collection to celebrate the prize’s 25th anniversary (Women’s Prize for Fiction/PA)</figcaption>
There are 25 books in the collection to celebrate the prize’s 25th anniversary (Women’s Prize for Fiction/PA)

For its 25th anniversary though, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is brilliantly republishing 25 novels written by women under a male pen name – and putting their real names back on their work.

Women’s Prize founder director Kate Mosse said: “We’re incredibly excited by the Reclaim Her Name campaign – it’s a lovely way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Prize, by doing what we always strive to do – empowering women, igniting conversations and ensuring that they get the recognition they deserve.”

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Middlemarch is finally being published under the real name of the woman who wrote it: Mary Ann Evans (Women’s Prize for Fiction/PA)</figcaption>
Middlemarch is finally being published under the real name of the woman who wrote it: Mary Ann Evans (Women’s Prize for Fiction/PA)

The series features beloved English classic Middlemarch – written by Mary Ann Evans in the 1870s under the pseudonym George Eliot – as well as books from all over the world, including Japanese novella Takekurabe, written by Ichiyō Higuchi (real name Natsu Higuchi), and Marie Of The Cabin Club by African American writer Ann Petry, under the name Arnold Petri.

Petry’s daughter Liz said of the new collection: “When I was asked if my mother’s work could be included within such a worthy collection of books along with other impressive female writers, I was honoured. I’m incredibly proud of my mother’s work and it excites me that her writing has been introduced to a new audience through this collection.

“I know she would be thrilled to be a part of this as it’s an incredible conversation starter for such an important cause – my mother always believed in a world with shared humanity and I think this project encapsulates that.”

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Some of the books from the Reclaim the Name series (Women’s Prize for Fiction/PA)</figcaption>
Some of the books from the Reclaim the Name series (Women’s Prize for Fiction/PA)

The collection also features colourful, modern covers, designed by female illustrators, and the ebooks for each are free to access.