The Booker Prize organizers today said it would be “problematic” to revert to the nomination of ledgers only in Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, calling it a “colonial setting” with roots in the British Empire.
There is anger that only one writer from the UK has made the shortlist for this year’s award, fueling concerns about the competition opening up to non-Commonwealth talent and dominance American authors.
This year Nadifa Mohamed, the only Briton nominated, will compete for the £ 50,000 prize in November for her novel, The Fortune Men, about a real petty criminal wrongly convicted of murder in the 1950s in Cardiff.
The author, who came from Somalia to the United Kingdom in 1986, will face three American writers, a South African and a Sri Lankan. Last year’s preselection was also dominated by American writers.
The award was created to celebrate British and Commonwealth writers, but the entry rules were changed in 2013 to allow any submission published in English by a UK publisher.
But Gaby Wood, of the Booker Prize Foundation, said it would be difficult to revert to the original entry criteria claiming there are “political and literary problems” with the return to the “colonial framework.”
She added: “I think going back is problematic. I prefer the idea of evolution. I think there are political as well as literary problems in going back to a Commonwealth framework. It is essentially a colonial setting. I don’t know if this is the right time to do it – if ever there is a right time. ‘
Maya Jasanoff, chair of this year’s jury, added that she found “quite remarkable in the 21st century that people speak of the former British Empire as a suitable container for thinking about literature.”
Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, the British Nobel Prize winner was selected for his eighth novel, Klara and the Sun, but was not on the shortlist. Chigozie Obioma, who is one of the judges and himself twice shortlisted, insisted that nationalities were not taken into account. “The Booker Prize is the great leveler,” he said. “We look not only at what writers say, but how they say it. Maya Jasanoff, president of the 2021 judges and professor of history at Harvard, said: “I find it quite remarkable in the 21st century that people talk about the old British empires as suitable containers for thinking about literature. “
Miss Wood said more would be done if it was “felt that British writers in particular or Commonwealth writers are not sufficiently supported”.
The six books shortlisted for the prestigious 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction explore themes such as racism, injustice, freedom and stresses on women’s lives.
The only British-born author selected is Somali-British novelist Nadifa Mohamed for The Fortune Men.
The novels by American authors are No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Bewilderment by Richard Powers and Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, which confront A Passage North by Sri Lankan Anuk Arudpragasam and The Promise by South African author Damon Galgut. .
This is the third time that Galgut has appeared, having been shortlisted in 2003 with The Good Doctor and again in 2010 for In A Strange Room.
The judges announced a long list of 13 books in July, chosen from 158 novels published in the UK or Ireland.
Sir Kazuo Ishiguro was on the long list but failed to make the cut, failing to become a double award winner with his eighth novel, Klara And The Sun.
The shortlist, announced at a digital press conference on Tuesday, was chosen by judges, including historian and panel chair Maya Jasanoff and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
When asked what conclusions could be drawn about the state of British writing, given that only one British writer was shortlisted, Judge Chigozie Obioma added: “For me I think the Booker Prize is the great leveler.
“If you think of some of the writers we picked, say An Island, for example, or even A Passage North, they’re writers telling stories that don’t make the news.
“I don’t think you would hear about the life of a poor woman in Sri Lanka or a man stranded on an island off the coast of Africa.
“But in judging the Booker Prize, we are looking not only at what writers say, but how they say it, and therefore nationalities don’t really matter.
“What matters is what the writer brought to the page, and the vision he has and how he achieved it.
“So if we don’t have a lot of British writers, I think it’s just a coincidence, not something that we intentionally made a conscious decision about. “
Discussing Galgut’s novel, Obioma added: “His novel was one of the first we read, I think, but we were immediately struck by what seemed, at first, a little strange but then came to be. crystallized to be in fact a sort of revival of what we considered to be the omniscient voice.
“So here you have a narrator who is super intrusive and extraordinarily penetrating into the consciousness of the characters. “
Jasanoff said Great Circle was “as absorbing as the great realist novels of the 19th century, but it also addresses ever-present issues of freedom and restraint, especially in women’s lives, as some of the my fellow judges ”.
“And we felt it was kind of a ‘tour de force’ of scene creation and prose style that got her on this list,” she added.
The winner will be announced on November 3 and will be broadcast live on Front Row of BBC Radio 4, BBC iPlayer and BBC News Channel.
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CM – Booker Prize organizers say its “colonial” roots are problematic – Cameroon Magazine