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British author Zadie Smith wins Orange Prize

Written by: Staff

LONDON, June 7 (Reuters) British author Zadie Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction with her third novel ''On Beauty'', a comic homage to E. M. Forster's ''Howard's End'' exploring race, class and arrogance at a U.S. university.

Smith wept as she accepted the 30,000 pound (,000) prize, the most prestigious award yet for a writer who has been praised by critics -- and sold plenty of books -- but has been snubbed by judges for top prizes in the past.

''I'm delighted that it happened ... I'm elated, I really am,'' she told Reuters after the ceremony at London's Royal Courts of Justice.

The other shortlisted authors were Ali Smith for ''The Accidental'', Hilary Mantel for ''Beyond Black'', Sarah Waters for ''The Night Watch'', American Nicole Krauss for ''The History of Love'' and Australian Carrie Tiffany for her debut ''Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living''.

''I would have had a hard time choosing between them, I really would,'' said Smith.

Her other two novels, her best-selling 2000 debut ''White Teeth'' and ''The Autograph Man'', were also shortlisted for the Orange Prize but failed to win the award, which is given for the best novel written in English by a woman.

''On Beauty'' was shortlisted for the leading Man Booker prize last year.

Martha Kearney, who chaired the Orange Prize panel of judges, described the book as a ''literary tour de force''.

''(It) combines extraordinary characterisation with skilful and seemingly effortless plotting. It ranges from exposing the intimacies of family life to broader themes of aesthetics, ethics and the vagaries of academe,'' she said in a statement.

Like ''White Teeth'', ''On Beauty'' involves a cast of characters from different races and various backgrounds, and finds rollicking humour in their politics, language, hang-ups and intellectual pretensions.

It updates Forster's classic by moving it from turn-of-the-century England to contemporary Boston, where Smith spent time on a visiting fellowship at Harvard.

''Forster was my first love in fiction and I wanted to celebrate that,'' said Smith.

''I was in Boston and I found that it opened my eyes to landscape. It opened my eyes to visual things. So I decided to keep it there.'' The Observer newspaper described the book as ''wonderfully funny'' and said it ''confirms Smith as an outstanding novelist with a powerful understanding both of what the brain knows and of what love knows''.

Reuters SK VP0505

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