SheThePeople announced the winner of the inaugural Women Writers Prize on 16 March 2022. The novel Budhini by Sarah Joseph has won the Women Writers Prize for 2021. The title, published by Penguin Random House India in English, has been translated by the writer’s daughter Sangeetha Sreenivasan. Budhini was also published in the leading literary Malayalam magazine Mathrubhumi Weekly in installments.
The Women Writers Prize has been instituted by the New Delhi-based platform for women, SheThePeople, and carries a cash prize of Rs 50,000. As a translation has won the honor this year, the prize money will be equally distributed between the author and the translator. The award was introduced seven years after the launch of the annual Women Writers Fest.
The other titles shortlisted for the honor were What We Know About Her by Krupa Ge, A Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel; The Begum and the Dastan by Tarana Khan; A Red-necked Green Bird by Ambai, translated by GJV Prasad; and Sisterhood of Swans by Selma Carvalho. The judges for the 2021 award were – independent literary agent Preeti Gill; writer and journalist G Sampath; and Bengaluru-based Atta Galatta bookshop co-founder Lakshmi Subodh.
Judge Preeti Gill said, “The story of Budhini encapsulates India, an India that is still largely unknown and silent, whose stories are still not a part of our so-called mainstream. A strong, wonderfully written story told with empathy, it enriches our perception and understanding of an India that we often ignore.”
Women Writers Prize founder Shaili Chopra added, “A story of perennial appeal, Budhini is a winner in every way. Our heartfelt congratulations to Sarah Joseph, the author of this wonderful book, and translator Sangeetha Sreenivasan.”
Joseph also won the Odakkuzhal Award 2021 recently for Budhini. The Rs 30,000 cash prize award is accompanied by a citation and a plaque. Instituted in 1968, the award is named after poet G Shankara Kurup’s well-known poem Odakkuzhal which won the first Jnanapith Award.
The 76-year-old writer hails from the Thrissur district in Kerala. She initiated her literary career in early adulthood by contributing her poems to leading Malayalam weeklies. She stood apart at poem recitation meets, which attracted the interest of well-known poets Edasseri Govindan Nair and Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon. Her literary career took off when she started writing short stories and later long-form content in the form of novels. Being raised in a conservative Malayali family and married off at the naive age of 15, gender discrimination in Indian society left a deep impression on her mind and later prompted her to take up the cause of feminism.
Joseph is a recognizable face for the Kerala feminist movement today and has also established a social activist organization called Manushi at Sanskrit College in Pattambi where she served as a Professor of Malayalam for many years. Manushi encourages women to raise their voices against a spectrum of crimes against women such as acid attacks, rapes, harassment, human trafficking, domestic abuse, dowry deaths, and sexual slavery.
She has previously won numerous awards for her feminist writing – her Malayalam work Aalahayude Penmakkal won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (2003), the Vayalar Award (2004), the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award, and the Cherukad Award (2000). The novel was translated into the English language as Daughters of God the Father.
She came into the spotlight in 2003, after she returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against the silence maintained by its literary wing on the murders and violence against writers across the country. She also had a short stint with politics after she joined the Aam Aadmi Party in 2014 and contested the parliament elections from Thrissur the same year.
Joseph has also won the Muttathu Varkey Award, instituted by the Muttathu Varkey Foundation, for her short story compilation Papathara. Her book Ooru Kaval won the maiden OV Vijayan Sahitya Puraskaram in 2011. She has also won the Padmaprabha Literary Award (2012) for her body of work.
Another short story collection, The Masculine of Virgin inspired Malayalam poet, writer and critic K Satchidanandan to pen down the word Pennezhuthu into English which was described by The Hindu as “writing seen as a feminist concept, in which the author uses female constructions of identity.” Ramayana Kathakal, her adaptation of the Ramayana gained wide readership after an English translation was published by the Oxford University Press.