The 2020 Booker Prize shortlist is the most diverse and international ever


In a year of reckoning with racial injustice, the shortlist demonstrates the publishing industry’s commitment to do better.

The shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize, which was announced this afternoon, is undoubtedly the most diverse in the prize’s history. Of the many statistics of note – that of the six books, four are by authors of colour, four are debut novels, and four are written by women – perhaps the most striking is that only one author, Douglas Stuart, is from the UK. 

That such an international shortlist is possible for the Booker Prize which, since its inception in 1969, has been regarded as the highest literary accolade in the English-speaking world, is a recent development in itself. The prize was only opened up to any work published in the UK and written in (rather than translated into) English in 2014 – previously, authors had to be citizens of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland to be eligible for entry. 

But the widening of these rules, and so the mindset of the literary elite and the imaginations of readers, has shone a spotlight on brilliant writing from perspectives not always documented in Britain. The judging panel, led by Margaret Busby and including Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissay and Emily Wilson, will also have ensured that voices from wide-ranging backgrounds are on the agenda. This year’s international-heavy list bears such fruit.

Shuggie Bain, Stuart’s debut novel, published by Picador in February, is a gritty tale of poverty in 1980s Scotland. It follows the relationship between a child and his substance-abusing mother. Stuart may be a white man – the only one on this shortlist – but his nomination hardly toes the line of a “male, pale and stale” literary establishment. Stuart has since made a career in fashion design in New York City, and holds dual US citizenship, but his book draws on his working-class upbringing in Glasgow. “I grew up in a house with no books,” he told the New Yorker earlier this year. 

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Brandon Taylor’s Real Life (published by Daunt Books, one of just two small independent presses to make the list) follows Wallace, a queer black man from a small town in Alabama, as he struggles to find his place at university in the American Midwest. In crystalline prose, Taylor expertly analyses the day-to-day aggressions – some micro, others much more obvious, all tiring – that face a black man living among white friends and lab colleagues.

The violence in Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body (Faber), the episodic final instalment of a trilogy that began in 1988, is not so severe as that encountered in the series’ first book, Nervous Conditions, which recounts a 1960s childhood branded by the war of independence. Tambu, Dangarembga’s protagonist, is middle aged, at a very different stage of life to Taylor’s Wallace, but still she is angered by white privilege, and leaves a prestigious job because of discrimination. Racism, these books say, affects all of us, at every level.

Systemic, historic racism – colonialism – is at the heart of Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste’s …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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