The 2020 Booker Prize Shortlist

Announced 15 September 2020

Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor are today, announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction.

The shortlist was revealed at lunchtime by the 2020 Chair of Judges Margaret Busby during a virtual press conference. It will be celebrated this evening in a Shortlist Watch Party for readers around the world on The Booker Prize’s Facebook and YouTube pages at 5pm BST.

Publication date:

The full press release can be downloaded here.

The shortlist was selected from 162 submitted books. Readers of the six chosen books will explore the tender story of a mother’s battle to save her daughter in a dystopian city made inhospitable by the climate crisis; witness a woman confronting the realities of life and morality in Zimbabwe as she descends into poverty; travel to India to unpick an unsettling mother-daughter relationship redefined by dementia; uncover the extraordinary tales of the African women who went to war during Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia; find humanity and humour in the harsh realities experienced by a marginalised family in 1980s Glasgow; and question what ‘real life’ is in a fresh take on the campus novel, which offers a nuanced account of racism and homophobia. 


The 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the UK or Ireland between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020.

The 2020 shortlist is:
Author (country/territory)        Title (imprint)
Diane Cook (USA), The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications)
Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), This Mournable Body (Faber & Faber)
Avni Doshi (USA), Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House) 
Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA), The Shadow King (Canongate Books)
Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA), Shuggie Bain (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
Brandon Taylor (USA), Real Life (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing) 

   
The shortlist was selected by a panel of five judges: Margaret Busby (chair), editor, literary critic and former publisher; Lee Child, author; Sameer Rahim, author and critic; Lemn Sissay, writer and broadcaster; and Emily Wilson, classicist and translator.


Margaret Busby, Chair of the 2020 judges, says:
‘As judges we read 162 books, many of them conveying important, sometimes uncannily similar and prescient messages. The best novels often prepare our societies for valuable conversations, and not just about the inequities and dilemmas of the world − whether in connection with climate change, forgotten communities, old age, racism, or revolution when necessary − but also about how magnificent the interior life of the mind, imagination and spirit is, in spite of circumstance. The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different. We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience.


‘The novels on this year’s shortlist range in setting from an unusual child growing up in working-class Glasgow in the 1980s, to a woman coping with a post-colonial nightmare in Zimbabwe. Along the way we meet a man struggling with racism on a university campus, join a trek in the wilderness after an environmental disaster, eavesdrop on a woman coping with her ageing mother as they travel across India and in an exploration of female power discover how ordinary people rose up in 1930s Ethiopia to defend their country against invading Italians. It’s a wondrous and enriching variety of stories, and hugely exciting as well.’


Gaby Wood, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, adds:
‘Every year, judging the Booker Prize is an act of discovery. What’s out there, how can we widen the net, how do these books seem when compared to one another, how do they fare when re-read? These are questions judges always ask themselves, and each other.

‘This year there has perhaps been more discovery than usual, both in the sense that debut novels are in the majority, and due to the fact that the judges themselves were surprised to find that was the case. Why were they surprised? They were focussing on the books. No one wins the Booker Prize because of who they are. A book wins because of what it does. What has transpired is a testament to the judges’ faith in – among other things – first fictions: they have found these writers to have much to say, and found them to have said it in a way that became even richer on a second reading.’


The four female authors on the shortlist are Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi and Maaza Mengiste. The two male authors are Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor. 


Four of the shortlisted books come from independent publishers represented by the Independent Alliance: Canongate Books, Daunt Books Publishing, Faber & Faber and Oneworld Publications.

Facts about the 2020 shortlisted authors: 

  • Diane Cook, a critically acclaimed short-story writer and former producer for the radio show ‘This American Life’, is shortlisted for her debut novel, The New Wilderness. She is currently writing a screenplay based on the novel and Warner Bros. Television has acquired the rights to develop it as a television series. Her first short story collection Man V Nature won the Guardian First Book Award. 
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body is the third book in a trilogy following Nervous Conditions (1988) ― winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize ― and The Book of Not (2006). Dangarembga is a filmmaker and playwright. She was recently arrested in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, during a peaceful protest against government corruption. She is due to be in court on 18 September. English PEN and PEN International are calling for the immediate dropping of all charges.
  • Avni Doshi, who is based in Dubai, wrote eight drafts of her debut novel, Burnt Sugar, before it was first published in India under the title Girl in White Cotton. It won the 2013 Tibor Jones South Asia Prize. There are a number of parallels between her life and the book: it’s set in Pune, where her family is from; both she and her character experienced postpartum depression, although she gave birth after submitting the novel; and she wrote about Alzheimer’s disease after her grandmother was diagnosed with the illness, explaining that she made sense of it through writing the novel.
  • Maaza Mengiste was born in Ethiopia and is a professor in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation programme at Queens College, City University of New York. She is the first writer from Ethiopia to make the shortlist. (Under the original Booker Prize rules, Ethiopian writers would not have been eligible.) She drew on her family history to write The Shadow King: she knew her grandfather had fought against the Italians during the invasion of Ethiopia and she later discovered that her great-grandmother had gone to war too. 
  • Douglas Stuart, who grew up in Glasgow, moved to New York to start his career in fashion design. His writing has appeared in LitHub and The New Yorker, including a recently published short story ‘The Englishman’. He has made the shortlist with his debut novel Shuggie Bain. He says the 1994 Booker winner How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman changed his life as it was one of the first times he saw his people and dialect on the page. He is currently finishing his second novel, Loch Awe.
  • Brandon Taylor, who attended the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a staff writer at Literary Hub, is shortlisted for his debut novel Real Life. He describes academia — the setting for his book and somewhere he’s spent a lot of time ― as full of human drama and intrigue, but quite hostile at times with ‘people who had a problem with my blackness or queerness’. He has a short story collection called Filthy Animals due out in the USA next year.


The 2020 winner announcement and shortlist events


The 2020 winner will be announced on Tuesday 17 November in an event broadcast from London’s Roundhouse in collaboration with BBC Arts. The ceremony has been re-imagined, transposing the traditional dinner at the Guildhall to a globally accessible ceremony without walls. In light of the pandemic, the newly formatted event aims to creatively engage readers across the world with the shortlisted books, authors and the overall winner. It will be a multi-platform offering, including a one-off BBC Two programme in the run-up, a Live Page on BBC Arts, coverage on BBC News in the UK and BBC World News and the live announcement of the winner on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. 


In the meantime, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row is running its successful Booker Prize Book Group for a second year with each of the six shortlisted books and authors. There will also be a series of digital public events featuring the authors, including a Guardian Live event on Wednesday 11 November and a regional event on Friday 13 November held in partnership with Doncaster Creates. 


The winner will take part in their first digital event in partnership with Southbank Centre on Saturday 21 November as part of its ‘Inside Out’ series. More information about the events programme will be announced soon.


The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The winner will receive a further £50,000 and can expect instant international recognition. 


The 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction was won jointly by The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. In the week following the announcement, sales of The Testaments rose from 11,955 to 13,400 copies while Girl, Woman, Other sold 5,980 copies, more than double its lifetime sales up to that point and a 1,340% increase week on week. The UK edition alone of The Testaments has now sold more than 850,000 copies. Girl, Woman, Other has now spent 25 weeks in The Sunday Times Top Ten in hardback and paperback, several at number one and its combined sales in all editions and formats are heading towards half a million. It will be published in 32 territories internationally and TV rights have been optioned by Potboiler. After its Booker Prize win it was shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction and won the best fiction book at the 2020 British Book Awards, while Evaristo was named Author of the Year. 

The leading prize for quality fiction in English


First awarded in 1969, The Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction written in English. The list of former winners features many of the literary giants of the last five decades: from Iris Murdoch to Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan to Hilary Mantel.


The Booker Prize is supported by Crankstart, a charitable foundation. 


The Booker Prizes podcast series will be releasing a shortlist podcast, featuring judges Lee Child and Emily Wilson, available from Friday 18 September.


By the time of the winner announcement all shortlisted titles will be available in braille, giant print and audio editions, produced by RNIB and funded by the Booker Prize Foundation.