‘The Power’, a science fiction, wins prestigious Baileys Prize
Winner Naomi Alderman was mentored by Margaret Atwood, and the dystopian theme of her novel resonates with that of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
On 7 June, in a ceremony at London’s Southbank Centre, Naomi Alderman was awarded the 22nd Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her self-proclaimed work of feminist science fiction, The Power. This year’s chair of judges, Tessa Ross, called it a clear winner of the prestigious £30,000 prize: “This prize celebrates great writing and great ideas and The Power had that, but it also had urgency and resonance”. Ross also predicted that it would be a “classic of the future”.
Published by Penguin in October 2016, The Power is Alderman’s fourth, and the first science fiction novel to bag the Baileys. It was welcomed with rave reviews, including The Guardian declaring it an “instant classic of speculative fiction”. Set in a dystopian future where women the world over develop the power to electrocute—from “tiny tingle to electro-death”—people, and primarily men, with a single touch, it follows four main characters: Roxy, the daughter of a London crime lord; Tunde, a journalism student in Lagos; Allie, from southern US; and Margo, a low-level politician in New England.
The former gaming columnist for The Guardian, and current professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, also won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers—launched to commemorate the 10th anniversary of what was then the Orange Prize for Fiction—for her debut, Disobedience.
The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded annually to the best full-length work of fiction in English written by a woman, and published in the UK. (Baileys has now withdrawn sole sponsorship, and the 2018 Prize will be supported by several still-to-be-confirmed sponsors.) At last night’s ceremony, the Prize’s co-founder Kate Moss also paid tribute to the Prize’s inaugural winner, Helen Dunmore, who passed away earlier this week.
In her acceptance speech, Naomi Alderman said: “The women’s movement is more vital to me than any other utility that might come into my house...The support and power of other women has been more vital to me than electricity.” She was joined on the shortlist by previous Baileys winner, Linda Grant; a debut writer, Ayòbámi Adébáyò; and a Man Booker-shortlisted writer, Madeleine Thien, among others.
Alderman has been mentored and endorsed by Margaret Atwood (the book is dedicated to her) and the latter’s influence on the former is evident. In the current political climate, The Handmaid’s Tale has gained renewed resonance with its recent revival in bookshops and on bestseller lists, and also its acclaimed adaptation for TV. The Power, too, is being adapted for television by Sister Pictures, and Alderman will write the screenplay. Alderman’s—and Atwood’s—fictional future may be deadly and dystopian, but the future is women.