The 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction Shortlist

Announced 14 September 2021

Anuk Arudpragasam, Damon Galgut, Patricia Lockwood, Nadifa Mohamed, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead are today announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction.

The shortlist was revealed this afternoon by the 2021 Chair of Judges Maya Jasanoff in a live online celebration, chaired by BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones in a central London location overlooking the River Thames and streamed to readers around the world. The event can be watched on the new Booker Prizes website here.

Publication date:

The full press release can be downloaded here.

The list was chosen from 158 novels published in the UK or Ireland between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021.The Booker Prize for Fiction is open to works by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland. 

Readers of the six shortlisted books will explore life, memory and trauma in the devastating wake of Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war; visit Pretoria during South Africa’s transition out of apartheid to watch the undoing of a white South African family; unpick the absurdities of our relentless exposure to social media when faced with the reality of human loss; witness a real-life battle against conspiracy, prejudice and a wrongful conviction for murder as a Somali seaman is hanged in Cardiff in the 1950s; experience the intense and moving love a father has for his troubled son as he pursues an experimental neurological therapy and searches for life on other planets; and travel through decades to learn of the enthralling, interwoven stories of two women: a mid-20th century aviator and a 21st century Hollywood star.

The 2021 shortlist is:

Author (Nationality) - Title (imprint)

Anuk Arudpragasam (Sri Lankan) - A Passage North (Granta Books, Granta Publications)

Damon Galgut (South African) - The Promise (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)

Patricia Lockwood (American) - No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)

Nadifa Mohamed (British/Somali) -The Fortune Men (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)

Richard Powers (American) - Bewilderment (Heinemann Hutchinson, PRH)

Maggie Shipstead (American) - Great Circle (Doubleday, Transworld Publishers, PRH)

The six books were chosen by the 2021 judging panel: historian Maya Jasanoff (chair); writer and editor Horatia Harrod; actor Natascha McElhone; twice Booker-shortlisted novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma; and writer and former Archbishop Rowan Williams


Maya Jasanoff, chair of the 2021 judges, says:

‘With so many ambitious and intelligent books before us, the judges engaged in rich discussions not only about the qualities of any given title, but often about the purpose of fiction itself. We are pleased to present a shortlist that delivers as wide a range of original stories as it does voices and styles.

‘Perhaps appropriately for our times, these novels share an interest in how individuals are both animated and constrained by forces larger than themselves. Some are acutely introspective, taking us into the mind of a Tamil man tracing the scars of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and an American woman unplugging from the internet to cope with a family crisis. Some enter communities in the throes of historical transformation: the Cardiff docklands in the early years of British decolonisation, and the veld around Pretoria in the last years of apartheid. And some have global sweep, following a mid-century aviator in her attempt to circumnavigate the planet, and a present-day astrobiologist raising a son haunted by climate change. While each book is immersive in itself, together they are an expansive demonstration of what fiction is doing today.’

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

‘This year, over the course of nine largely solitary months, five strangers of disparate backgrounds showed each other what they saw in stories—what dazzled them or challenged them, what touched them or left them unmoved. In the process they showed something of themselves, and came to trust each other as a result.

‘They also proved that the best literature is elastic: both because so many different things can be seen in it,  and because—as one of the judges said—the best of fiction can make you feel as though your mind, or heart, are a little bit larger for having read it. 

‘In congratulating the shortlistees, it’s worth remembering how true this remains of the 2021 longlist, all of which will continue to be celebrated at thebookerprizes.com, the new home of the prizes and the half-century-old Booker Library.’

Information about the 2021 shortlisted authors: 

  • Anuk Arudpragasam is a Sri Lankan Tamil novelist, shortlisted for his second novel. His first, The Story of a Brief Marriage, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. He studied philosophy in the United States, receiving a doctorate at Columbia University and credits Descartes’ Meditations, which he discovered as a teenager in a bookshop near his home in Columbo, Sri Lanka, with setting him off on that path. He looked to writers Thomas Bernhard and Javier Marías for ‘their use of digression and rhythm’ when writing A Passage North. He is working on a new novel about mothers and daughters in the Tamil diaspora. Read his Booker Prize Q&A here
  • Damon Galgut is a South African playwright and novelist, who wrote his first novel aged 17 and has now been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize. He has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. His eighth book, Arctic Summer, won the 2015 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and two films were made of his book The Quarry. He grew up in Pretoria, where The Promise is set, and now lives in Cape Town. When asked about why he became a writer, he told The Guardian that he had lymphoma as a child, during which he ‘learned to associate books and stories with a certain kind of attention and comfort’. He is currently working on a collection of short stories. Read his Booker Prize Q&A here
  • Patricia Lockwood is an American poet, novelist and essayist who was born in a trailer in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is the only debut novelist on this year’s shortlist, having previously written two poetry collections, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, and the memoir Priestdaddy, which was chosen 15 times by various publications as their book of the year. She is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books. No One is Talking About This was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She told The New York Times that the baby in her book ― their medical issues and personality — is based on her late niece, Lena, and she wrote that part in ‘compulsive bursts’ after helping her sister care for her in NICU. She is currently working on a collection of short fiction based on notebooks she’s kept of the past 18 months, along with a new novel. Read her Booker Prize Q&A here
  • Nadifa Mohamed is the first British Somali novelist to be shortlisted for the prize. She was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland and moved with her family to London at the age of four. The Fortune Men is her third novel, following Black Mamba Boy and The Orchard of Lost Souls. She has received both The Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award, as well as numerous other prize nominations for her fiction. She was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 and the editor of Granta at the time, John Freeman, is now US editor of The Fortune Men. She says she first became aware of Mahmood Mattan — the Somali man whose fictionalised story features in her book, and whom her father knew — in 2004, and kept checking back over the next 11 years as more information became available. Read her Booker Prize Q&A here
  • Richard Powers is an American author of 13 novels who has now been shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize. The Overstory, which made the list in 2018, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2020 American Academy of Arts and Letters’ William Dean Howells Medal for the most distinguished American work of fiction published in the last five years. He is also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the National Book Award, among other accolades. He says he is indebted to Booker winner Margaret Atwood, among other writers, for Bewilderment, which is in part about the anxiety of family life on a damaged planet. He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and is currently exploring ‘what social media, deep learning, hidden algorithms, and surprisingly intelligent marine creatures have to do with one another.’ Read his Booker Prize Q&A here
  • Maggie Shipstead is an American novelist who lives in LA and is shortlisted for her third novel. Her debut novel Seating Arrangements, published in 2012, was a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the LA Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller, and The Best American Short Stories. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a two-time National Magazine Award finalist for fiction. She told the Independent that her plan for Great Circle was to write a book about ‘scale, travel and what it means to live a life that’s truly free’ and that it was inspired by a statue she saw of New Zealand’s Jean Batten at Auckland airport. She has a collection of short stories coming out next summer. Read her Booker Prize Q&A here

The 2021 winner announcement and shortlist events

The 2021 winner will be announced on Wednesday 3 November in an award ceremony held in partnership with the BBC at Broadcasting House’s Radio Theatre. It will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, BBC iPlayer, and BBC News Channel. The winner of the 2021 Booker Prize receives £50,000 and can expect international recognition.

In the meantime, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row is running its successful Booker Prize Book Groups for a third year with each of the six shortlisted books and authors. There will also be two hybrid in-person and digital public events featuring interviews with and readings from the authors: at Coventry University, as part of the UK City of Culture 2021 celebrations, on Friday 29 October, 7.30pm, chaired by Lemn Sissay (booking details to follow); and at Southbank Centre on Sunday 31 October, 7.30pm chaired by Kit de Waal (in-person tickets available here and digital here).  

The winner will be interviewed live online in their first public event on Tuesday 9 November in partnership with Guardian Live. They will also take part in a digital event for Hay Festival’s Winter Weekend, which runs from 24-28 November at hayfestival.com.

Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction with his debut novel Shuggie Bain. In the first full week after the announcement, the book sold more than 25,000 copies in the UK, a 1900% increase on the week preceding the announcement. Shuggie Bain has been to Number 1 in The Times and the LA Times bestseller lists, Number 2 in The Sunday Times bestseller list, and Number 3 in The New York Times bestseller list. It was chosen as the ‘Book of the Year’ by The Times and the Daily Telegraph and won both ‘Debut of the Year’ and ‘Book of the Year’ at the 2021 British Book Awards. It is now published or forthcoming in 40 territories and has already sold over three-quarters of a million copies in its Picador editions. TV and film rights have been sold to Scott Rudin/A24 for a planned TV series.

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, V.S. Naipaul to Hilary Mantel.

The rules of the prize were changed at the end of 2013 to embrace the English language ‘in all its vigour, its vitality, its versatility and its glory’, opening it up to writers beyond the UK and Commonwealth, providing they were writing novels in English and published in the UK.

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

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.