A novel about the experiences of black immigrants in post-war Britain tonight won the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Andrea Levy was awarded the £30,000 (€44,883) prize for her fourth book, Small Island.
Based on the lives of her own parents, it tells the story of Hortense and Gilbert Joseph, who arrive in London from Jamaica in 1948 in search of a better life.
Gilbert is one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler.
But when they arrive in Britain they are shocked by the austere conditions and racism at every turn.
Levy’s father came to Britain on the Windrush in 1948, followed shortly after by his wife, and the novel is partly based on their experiences.
The Orange Prize was awarded at a ceremony in central London tonight by chair of the judges Sandi Toksvig.
Levy had been joint favourite along with Canadian writer Margaret Atwood for her novel Oryx and Crake.
The other nominees were The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard; Ice Road by Gillian Slovo; The Colour by Rose Tremain; and Purple Hibiscus by first-time writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Besides the £30,000 (€44,883) cheque, Levy was given a limited edition bronze sculpture known as a “Bessie”.
The shortlist surprised many when it was announced because it failed to include two Man Booker Prize nominees – Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane.
The Orange Prize was set up in 1996 as an alternative to other literary prizes, which the founders felt often overlooked work by women authors.
Past winners have included Carol Shields, Helen Dunmore and Valerie Martin, who won last year for her novel Property.