Back in July 2019, there were 13 contenders for the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction— the leading literary award for outstanding novels written in English.
They include three Nigerian authors, Bernardine Evaristo for her eighth book “Girl, Woman, Other,” Chigozie Obioma for his second novel “An Orchestra of Minorities,” and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s “My Sister, the Serial Killer.”
This longlist was later shortened to six books before the winner was announced on October 14, 2019. British-Nigerian Evaristo emerged as the winner of this year’s award along with famous Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood for “The Testament, the sequel to the classic “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Atwood has become the fourth novelist to win the prize twice while Evaristo sets the record as the first black woman and the first Black British author to receive this honour.
“What, then, does it mean to not see yourself reflected in your nation’s stories? This has been the ongoing debate of my professional career as a writer stretching back nearly 40 years, and we black British women know, that if we don’t write ourselves into literature, no one else will,” Evaristo told The Guardian about the importance of race and representation.
'Making the work happen, rather than waiting for other people to offer you opportunities – that’s very much the job of the writer. It’s about creating those characters and stories that need to be told'
— Royal Society of Literature (@RSLiterature) October 14, 2019
Evaristo is now the second Nigerian to get this prize after Ben Okri won the same award for “The Famished Road” back in 1991. The prize money, £50,000, will be split equally between the two winners.
The judges’ decision to split the award between the first black female winner, Evaristo and Atwood, a previous winner is causing a major stir in the literary world.
Commenting on the controversial decision, an anonymous former Booker judge said they felt it was a “huge disappointment that the chance to make history emphatically was passed by”.
Sam Leith, another former Booker judge, wrote an essay calling the decision to split the prize an “epic fail”, which sets “a rotten, rotten precedent” and is “unfair on both authors”.
No shade to Margaret Atwood but it’s very smelly that Bernadine Evaristo has to share the Booker Prize.
Atwood already won it in 2000. Was it really too much to ask that the first time a Black woman wins the Booker prize (in the 50 years that it has existed) she win it alone?!
— machine gun Kele (@kelechnekoff) October 15, 2019
Booker judge Afua Hirsch has defended this decision saying, “The outcome would always be imperfect because it was an impossible task. I’m proud of our decision. I’ve heard people complain that we didn’t give it to Atwood alone, or Evaristo alone. I’ve seen plenty of people question how you can ever compare the two. You can’t compare them. But you can recognise them both. And I’m glad that this is what we did.”
Both winners have responded graciously to the criticism with Atwood telling Evaristo, “I kind of don’t need the attention, so I am very glad that you’re getting some.”
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) October 14, 2019
“What do you think? Yes, but I’m happy to share it. That’s the kind of person I am,” Evaristo stated.