Critics call out Booker Prize judges after first black female winner shares award

Bernardine Evaristo was jointly awarded the £50,000 prize alongside Margaret Atwood

BOOKER PRIZE: This year's joint winners Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo (Photo: Booker Prize)

CRITICS HAVE called out the Booker Prize judges after the first black female recipient was announced as a joint winner.

Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood were both announced as winners of the 2019 prize on Monday. The decision award the prize to two authors marks a break from convention.

In addition to sharing the title of 2019 Booker winner, the pair will also split the £50,000 cash prize.

Evaristo, who is also the first black British author to win the award since it was established in 1969, won with her book Girl, Woman, Other. Atwood, a second-time Booker Prize recipient, was awarded for her novel The Testaments.

Girl, Woman, Other is Evaristo’s eighth fiction book. The judges described it as a “must-read about modern Britain and womanhood”.

“Her style is passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humour. There is never a single moment of dullness in this book and the pace does not allow you to turn away from its momentum. The language wraps the reader by force, with the quality of oral traditions and poetry. This is a novel that deserves to be read aloud and to be performed and celebrated in all kinds of media,” the judges said.

It follows a series of intergenerational stories, with a particular focus on black British women, through numerous spaces and heritages.

While Evaristo’s recognition and the significance of her achievement has been celebrated by supporters, the judges have been criticised for a decision which means the first black female winner of the prize will receive a lesser share than previous recipients since rules were changed so that only one person could be awarded.

Kelechi Okafor tweeted: “No shade to Margaret Atwood but it’s very smelly that Bernardine Evaristo has to share the Booker Prize. Atwood already won it in 2000. Was it really too much to ask that the first time a black woman wins the Booker prize (in the 50 years that it has existed) she win it alone?!”

“I’m a little sad that Bernardine Evaristo had to share the prize with Margaret Atwood. I mean, I’m sure she’s not. But it feels a little off that the first black woman to be awarded the prize had to share it,” one commenter wrote on Twitter.

Another wrote: “I love Margaret Atwood and I am thrilled Bernardine Evaristo is the first black woman to win. But I can’t help the niggling feeling that this result patronises both. And I am gutted that the first black woman to win the Booker has to share it.”

Another said: “I love Margaret Atwood. My undergrad dissertation focused on several of her novels. However allowing her to share the Booker with Bernardine Evaristo does the latter a disservice. Pick one or the other. Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize. She deserved to stand alone.”

Journalist Afua Hirsch, one of this year’s judges, today defended the choice to pick two winners.

Writing in The Guardian, she said: “The outcome would always be imperfect, because it was an impossible task. I’m proud of our decision.”

She added: “You can’t compare them. But you can recognise them both. And I’m glad that this is what we did.”

Peter Florence, chair of the 2019 judges, said: “This 10 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.”

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