Inspiring Words from Tessa Ross

At the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction awards party last week, our wonderful Chair of Judges Tessa Ross took to the stage to reveal this year’s Baileys Prize winner Naomi Alderman with The Power. Just prior to the big announcement, Tessa made an inspiring speech, reproduced below.

This is a truly special prize – there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. Since its inception in 1996 –  this prize has always been one of the most important celebrations of women’s creativity – honouring women from around the world – women of different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, ages, sexualities – writing about the past, the present and the future from a vast array of perspectives.

It’s been extraordinarily humbling to read the nearly two hundred novels that were submitted this year – to be a very present witness to the work that women around the world are producing today. And it’s work of exceptional breadth and depth – pouring from the minds of so many very talented women.

Tonight is a glamorous, glorious celebration – and of course what we are truly celebrating is the unbelievable amount of endeavour by very many individual, bold, brave and brilliant voices, all of whom have a compulsion be heard.

A year ago, I stood where you’re all standing now and waited excitedly for the announcement of our winner. Twelve months on and the room, the city, the country, the whole world – all feel very different. This changing world needs our voices more than ever – which makes this is  a vital and essential celebration of great women’s great writing and an important platform for these glorious voices.

We’re so lucky that storytellers cannot help but keep telling their stories. For what feels like my whole life I’ve been searching for the stories that could only have been told by that one person – the people who dig deep into themselves to find a great and singular truth. Though my day job has pulled me to the stories told on screen, it’s the search for those stories and their storytellers that has kept me going. To be lost in someone’s else’s head, to be in a world that isn’t your own, to travel without moving, to feel something unknown, to understand the most unimainagable experience, to recognize the tiniest beat of an emotion –all of these are the reasons for that search.

Of course film requires teams of people to make them happen, and writing novels is a solitary journey, and yet both deliver the stories that bring us together. Stories bind us and weave together our pasts and our futures . So what a privilege it has been to feel like the protector of a prize that understands all of this, and knows that great readers are the very best way of honouring great writers, a prize that puts so much energy into bringing books and readers together, a prize that encourages the very best work into as many hands as possible.

We agreed that each one of these shortlisted books was a winner and I promised  that I would share with you our passion for each of these novels.

We believe that Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me shines with a rare integrity and humanity, that Naomi Alderman’s The Power grabs you by the guts and launches you into a brilliantly imagined future, that Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle is gripping and vivid, delivered with a brilliant sense of place and time,  that C. E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings is an extraordinary epic that holds a massive grip long after the last page is turned, that Gwendoline Riley’s First Love is written with a sharp, poetic voice, beautiful in its precision and forensic eye, and that Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is mesmerising, complex and yet amazingly intimate. We loved all of these books. They are exceptional novels.

 

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