Valerie Martin, a writing faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College, has been awarded the 2003 Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel, Property. The Orange Prize is a prestigious British award for the best English-language novel written by a woman. Last year, Sarah Lawrence alumna Ann Patchett won the award for her novel Bel Canto.
Property is narrated by Manon Gaudet, the unhappily married wife of a Louisiana sugar plantation owner in the 1820s. Gaudet is a miserable but unrepentant slaveholder who is both complicit in and subjugated by the South’s tyrannical social structures. “I’m interested in the connection between domestic inequality and societal repression, which I think go hand in hand,” Martin said in an interview. “For oppression to flourish in the wide world it must first have deep roots in the domestic scene.”
Martin’s novel was an unexpected winner—critics had picked high-profile writers Donna Tartt and Zadie Smith to land the $40,000 award. The other short-listed novels were The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt; The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith; Unless, by Carol Shields; Heligoland, by Shena Mackay; and Buddha Da, by Anne Donovan.
Martin isn’t the first Sarah Lawrence writer to win the Orange Prize, which was inaugurated in 1996. Sarah Lawrence alumna Ann Patchett won the 2002 Prize for Bel Canto. Patchett, who graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1985, has won numerous other awards and prizes for her work, including the 2002 PEN/Faulkner award and a 1994 Guggenheim fellowship.