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Keeping it in the Booker family

Keeping it in the Booker family

What does a Booker Prize winner read under lockdown? If you are Bernardine Evaristo you read another Booker Prize winner. The current reigning joint-champ recently revealed that her routine currently involves zigzagging between writing, organising her personal archive, and caring for her mother: as she noted, regretfully, “I haven’t really had time to pick up new hobbies.” She has, however, finally found the time to read Anna Burns’s Milkman. And time, too, to reflect a little on her Booker Prize win: “I didn’t realise the impact of the Booker, but the repercussions are just endless in a very positive way. My books have been sold all over the world and there’s translations, and the television rights. . . My reputation has gone through the roof!” It has also brought about an unexpected change: “I cannot say I’m an outsider anymore. But I’m very aware that my success does not necessarily mean that the doors are going to open for other writers. That’s what counts. It’s not about my success, it’s not about being an individual: it’s actually about how my breakthrough means that people of colour in this country, who would normally be overlooked, are actually embraced by the publishing world.” Evaristo’s altruism aside, it will be fascinating to see what happens to her fiction now that she writes from the inside out rather than the outside in.

Proof, if it was needed, that Evaristo is now an establishment figure is offered by her involvement with an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project, titled Boundless Creativity, which aims to give people access to culture using “interactive and immersive digital technologies”. Alongside other headliners such as fellow Bookerite Ben Okri, Mary Beard and Fiona Shaw, AHRC is delving into ways to help the creative industries thrive in the digital age and how utilise their research to help that happen. The current times show how necessary the initiative is and, indeed, makes the perfect Petri dish. Among the initiatives are a digital event, Reimagining Wordsworth, in which the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, and Helen McCrory give readings of the poet’s work; a series of short animated films, the result of a BBC-AHRC collaboration will be made available on the BBC Culture in Quarantine website; while Towards a National Collection sees AHRC interact with galleries, museums, and libraries to analyse what types of culture people are turning to now.

Evaristo is of course also one of the shortlistees for the fiction section of the Orwell Prizes for political writing. Her fellow Booker Prize 2019 nominee Lucy Ellmann is one of the others on the list, for Ducks, Newburyport. Whether they make the shortlist should be revealed any day now but Orwell himself would be particularly aware of the irony that the winner announcement, which usually takes place as close as possible to his birthday on 25 June, is now in the lap of the gods.

It wouldn’t have been said a few years back but there is a weighty Booker Prize presence on this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year longlist. Oyinkan Braithwaite makes an appearance, courtesy of her 2019 Booker Prize longlisted My Sister the Serial Killer, as do a former judge, Val McDermid, and Lee Child, one of the 2020 judging panel. Ironically, crime writers tend to be exceptionally friendly to one another so Braithwaite, McDermid and Child have no need to fear dark alleys and a knife in the back.

Congratulations to Colson Whitehead. The novelist has just been awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Nickel Boys. It is not Whitehead’s first time: he also won the Pulitzer in 2017 with The Underground Railway, compensation perhaps for the book being longlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize but progressing no further. That novel, however, is proving to have a long shelf-life – it is currently being adapted into a television series by Amazon.