In a shock announcement, the judges of the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction awarded the prize to two authors: Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. Breaking the Booker Prize rules, the judges split the prize between the two authors. For Atwood she is the fourth author to have won the prize twice and Evaristo is the first black woman to claim the prize since it began in 1969. 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 Testaments is the third sequel to have won the prize, following Pat Parker’s The Ghost Road (1995) and Hilary Mantel’ Bring Up the Bodies (2012).
Three publications said these quotes of the writers “One of the greatest writers of the past century. A world without Margaret Atwood in it would not be anywhere near as brilliant” The Sunday Times
“If you want to understand modern day Britain, [Evaristo] is the writer to read… a story for our times.” New Statesman. The Stylist meanwhile described it as ‘’Exceptional. Ambitious, flowing and all-encompassing, an offbeat narrative that’ll leave your mind in an invigorated whirl’.
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).
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.”
The Testaments is set 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.
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”.
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 new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
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”.
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.
The winners were chosen by a panel of five judges: founder and director of Hay Festival Peter Florence (Chair); former fiction publisher and editor Liz Calder; novelist, essayist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo; writer, broadcaster and former barrister Afua Hirsch; and concert pianist, conductor and composer Joanna MacGregor. The judges chose from 151 submitted books.
Actors Franc Ashman, Paapa Essiedu and Elizabeth McGovern read extracts from the shortlisted books at the ceremony. All the shortlisted authors attended alongside a number of former winners, including Anna Burns, Alan Hollinghurst and Ben Okri.
Royal Mail is again issuing a congratulatory postmark featuring the winner’s name, which will be applied to millions of items of stamped mail nationwide on 15 October. It will read ‘Congratulations to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the 2019 Booker Prize’.
On winning the Booker Prize, an author can expect international recognition, plus a dramatic increase in book sales. 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 Marlon James, Ian McEwan 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 or Ireland. The Booker Prize is supported by #Crankstart, a charitable foundation.
The Booker Prizes podcast series will be releasing a winner podcast, featuring an interview with Margaret Atwood, behind the scenes content from the Southbank Centre green room and the winner ceremony at the Guildhall, available from Friday 18 October.