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Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo: Winners of The 2019 Booker Prize announced

Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo: Winners of The 2019 Booker Prize announced

In a shock announcement, the judges of the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction have tonight (Monday 14 October) awarded the prize to two authors: Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other.

The Booker Prize has been jointly awarded twice before, to Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton in 1974 and to Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth in 1992. In 1993, the rules were changed so that only one author could win the prize. This is the first time since then that two authors have been announced as joint-winners. The 2019 winners will share the £50,000 prize money.

It is the second time that Atwood has won the Booker Prize, having won in 2000 with The Blind Assassin. She has been shortlisted for four further books: The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), Cat’s Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996) and Oryx and Crake (2003). 

The New York Times said, “Atwood’s sheer assurance as a storyteller makes for a fast, immersive narrative that’s as propulsive as it is melodramatic,” while The Guardian wrote that Atwood’s “angry, pacey sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale admits a ray of light into Gilead’s toxic world”.

Writing on the story behind her book for The Guardian, Atwood said: “In many ways, The Testaments is an answer to all the questions readers have been asking me about The Handmaid’s Tale over the years. But it also belongs to our moment of history, when things in a number of countries seem to be heading more toward Gilead than away from it”.

Bernardine Evaristo is the first black woman to be awarded the Booker Prize. She wins with Girl, Woman, Other, her eighth book of fiction, which she has written alongside essays, drama and writing for BBC radio. Evaristo drew on aspects of the African diaspora, be it past, present, real of imagined, to inform Girl, Woman, Other.

The New Statesman said of Evaristo that “if you want to understand modern day Britain, this is the writer to read”, and called Girl, Woman, Other “a story for our times.” Stylist meanwhile described it as ‘'Exceptional. Ambitious, flowing and all-encompassing, an offbeat narrative that'll leave your mind in an invigorated whirl’.

Writing on the story behind her book for The Guardian, Evaristo said: “Fiction excavates and reimagines our histories; investigates, disrupts, validates and contextualises our societies and subjectivities; exercises our imaginations through flights of fancy, takes the reader on transformational adventures, and probes and presents our motivations, problems and dramas. 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 forty years, and we black British women know, that if we don’t write ourselves into literature, no one else will”.

Chair of the 2019 judges, Peter Florence, comments:

“This ten month process has been a wild adventure. In the room today we talked for five hours about books we love. Two novels we cannot compromise on. They are both phenomenal books that will delight readers and will resonate for ages to come.”

Gaby Wood, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, adds:

“Over an agonising five hours, the 2019 Booker Prize judges discussed all of the much-loved books on their shortlist, and found it impossible to single out one winner. They were not so much divided as unwilling to jettison any more when they finally got down to two, and asked if they might split the prize between them. On being told that it was definitively against the rules, the judges held a further discussion and chose to flout them. They left the judging room happy and proud, their twin winners gesturing towards the six they would have wanted, had it been possible to split the prize any further.”

 

About the winning books and authors

The Testaments

Margaret Atwood

Published by Vintage, Chatto & Windus

 

Judges' comment:

“It is a savage and beautiful novel that speaks to us today with conviction and power. The bar is set unusually high for Atwood. She soars.”

Synopsis

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets. As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Biography

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Canada on 18 November 1939. She is the author of more than 50 books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. She won the 2000 Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin and was shortlisted for the Prize with The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), Cat’s Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996) and Oryx and Crake (2003). The Handmaid's Tale went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump and the 2017 transmission of the award-winning TV series [It was a Hulu series, screened on Channel 4]. Sales of the English language edition have now topped eight million copies worldwide. Atwood’s further awards include the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

The Testaments is published by Penguin Random House imprint Chatto and Windus making it the fourth time the prize has been won by that imprint. Previous winners published by Chatto and Windus are: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan in 2014; Possession by A.S. Byatt in 1990; and The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch in 1978.

 

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo

Publsihed by Hamish Hamilton

 

Judges' comment:

“A must-read about modern Britain and womanhood. This is an impressive, fierce novel about the lives of black British families, their struggles, pains, laughter, longings and loves. With a dazzling rhythm, Evaristo takes us on a journey of intergenerational stories, moving through different spaces and heritages: African, Caribbean, European. Her 12 main characters manifest the highs and lows of our social life. They are artists, bankers, teachers, cleaners, housewives, and are at various stages of womanhood, from adolescence to old age. Her style is passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humour. There is never a single moment of dullness in this book and the pace does not allow you to turn away from its momentum. The language wraps the reader by force, with the quality of oral traditions and poetry. This is a novel that deserves to be read aloud and to be performed and celebrated in all kinds of media.”

Synopsis

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of 12 very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.  Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.

Biography

Bernardine Evaristo was born in London on 28 May 1959. She is the Anglo-Nigerian author of seven other books of fiction and verse that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. Her writing also spans short fiction, reviews, essays, drama and writing for BBC radio. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. As a literary activist for inclusion she has founded several successful initiatives including Spread the Word writer development agency (1995 – ongoing); The Complete Works mentoring scheme for poets of colour (2007-2017) and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (2012 – ongoing). She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009. She lives in London.

Girl, Woman, Other is published by Penguin Random House imprint Hamish Hamilton, making it the third time the prize has been won by that imprint. The other winners were: Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth in 1992, and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai in 2006.