Gillian Flynn, Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver

Gillian Flynn, Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver are on the longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction. (M. Spencer Green / Associated Press; Sergio Dionisio / Associated Press; David Wood / Riverhead Books)

Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver are among the finalists for the $45,000 Women's Prize, known formerly as the Orange Prize, which released its longlist today.  The annual prize honors  a work of fiction written in English by a woman, and was awarded last year to American author Madeline Miller for her debut novel, "The Song of Achilles."

As of a year ago, there was some doubt as to whether this 2013 list would exist. Orange, the British telecommunications company that funded the prize, turned off the tap last May. But after a four-month media hiatus, the award, which was first given in 1992, was relaunched under its original title, the Women's Prize for Fiction. It is being funded this year by a private group of donors, which includes writers Joanna Trollope and Elizabeth Buchan. The prize will be renamed again for next year, once a sponsor is announced. 

The 2013 20-book longlist includes novels by women from England, the U.S. and Canada; six are by first-time authors. Mantel -- whose presence, given her ubiquity on the prize circuit of late, makes her something of a frontrunner -- faces stiff competition.  Previous Orange Prize winners Kingsolver and Smith are here, for "Flight Behavior" and "NW" respectively, as are the best-selling thriller "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn and Sheila Heti's divisive fictional memoir, "How Should a Person Be?"  (The book had some wondering whether, because it includes real conversations Heti had with friends, it should be considered a novel at all.)  The diverse list also includes Elif Shafak's "Honor," a novel dealing with Muslim honor codes, Shani Boianjiu's debut, "The People of Forever Are Not Afraid," about women in the Israeli army, and Bonnie Naszam's "Lamb," which tackles the questionable relationship between an 11-year-old girl and a 54-year-old man.

Given Mantel's success of late ("Bring Up the Bodies," which is longlisted here, has won the Man Booker and the Costa, and Mantel also was awarded the "British Nobel," or David Cohen prize, last week for lifetime achievement), some have come to question whether a separate prize for women is still needed, as the original Women's Prize was conceived as an antidote to the male-dominated Booker.  But judging panel member Natasha Walter told the Guardian, "It is great that Hilary Mantel is seen as such a powerful voice in fiction but I think there's still a way to go before women writers as a whole are celebrated in the same way as men. I think it is really, really important that we still have this prize."

The shortlist will be decided by a panel of judges that includes actor Miranda Richardson, journalist Razila Iqbal and novelist JoJo Moyes. A shortlist will be announced in April and the winner in June, along with the name of next year's sponsor. 

The complete longlist is below:

Kitty Aldridge, "A Trick I Learned From Dead Men"

Kate Atkinson, "Life After Life"

Ros Barber, "The Marlowe Papers"

Shani Boianjiu, "The People of Forever Are Not Afraid"

Gillian Flynn, "Gone Girl"

Sheila Heti, "How Should a Person Be?"

A.M. Homes, "May We Be Forgiven"

Barbara Kingsolver, "Flight Behavior"

Deborah Copaken Kogan, "The Red Book"

Hilary Mantel, "Bring Up the Bodies"

Bonnie Nadzam, "Lamb"

Emily Perkins, "The Forrests"

Michèle Roberts, "Ignorance"

Francesca Segal, "The Innocents"