LONDON – Debut writers dominated the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, the judges announced on Tuesday, while star writers such as Hilary Mantel and Anne Tyler did not make the list.
Four of the six shortlisted books are from first-time authors, three of whom are American, while the fourth has dual Scottish and American nationality. Four of the shortlisted books are by women.
Nominated debuts include Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain”, a violent tale of a child growing up in Scotland in the 1
Diane Cook’s “The New Wilderness,” set in a dystopian future in which almost the entire natural world has been destroyed; and Avni Doshi’s “Burnt Sugar”, about an artist’s struggle to cope with his aging mother, are the other two debuts on the list.
The number of debuts “was a surprise” said Sameer Rahim, a writer and one of the judges, at a press conference in London announcing the shortlist. But he said it was “a red herring” to focus on that topic because many of the authors had previous writing experience.
The judges also read the majority of the submitted books on PDF files, a few of which contained biographical information, Rahim added, so they did not know what debut novels were. “You do not have time to google the authors,” he said.
In previous years, the Booker shortlist has been dominated by literary heavyweights, with works by Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Elif Shafak all coming on last year’s list. In 2018, a group of high-profile writers – without success – demanded that the Man Booker Foundation prevent American writers from being eligible for the award.
The long list for this year’s award, unveiled in July, had included Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light,” the end of her acclaimed trilogy about Thomas Cromwell; and Anne Tyler’s “Redhead Next to the Road.” But none of the books did.
“As good as it was, there were six who were better,” said author Lee Child, one of the judges, when asked about Mantel’s omission at the press conference.
Mantel won the Booker Prize for the first two parts of her Cromwell trilogy; in 2009 to “Wolf Hall” and in 2012 to “Bring Up the Bodies.”
Two of the books on the shortlist are by established authors – Maaza Mengiste’s “The Shadow King” and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “This Mournable Body” – and both works have received recognition. Namwali Serpell called in a review of The New York Times Mengistes’ book on Ethiopian women in the Second Italian-Ethiopian War as a “lyrical, remarkable new novel.”
“This sad body” about a woman struggling to find work in Zimbabwe has just been praised. Alexandra Fuller, who wrote for The New York Times, called it “a masterpiece” in which she looked at how women try to “imagine and work their way out of a narrative already decided for them.”
Dangarembga is perhaps the most famous name on the list because of her political struggles. In July, she was arrested in Zimbabwe for participating in anti-corruption protests.
The shortlist was chosen from a longlist of 13 books. Originally, 162 books were submitted for the award. They were read by five judges, including Child and Lemn Sissay, a British poet. “The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly,” said Margaret Busby, a publisher and presiding judge in a press release.
“We are excited to help convey the chronicles of these creative people to a global audience,” she added.
The winning title will be unveiled at a ceremony in London on 17 November. Its author receives 50,000 pounds or about $ 64,000.