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Why Booker Jury's Decision to Break Rule and Award Both Atwood and Evaristo is Causing 'Outrage'

Many claimed that the joint victory with Margaret Atwood could overshadow Bernardine Evaristo becoming the first black woman to ever win the Booker.


Updated:October 15, 2019, 7:32 PM IST
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Why Booker Jury's Decision to Break Rule and Award Both Atwood and Evaristo is Causing 'Outrage'
Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share the Booker Prize 2019 | Image credit: Reuters

Canadian writer Margaret Atwood and British author Bernardine Evaristo split the Booker Prize on Monday, after the judging panel ripped up the rulebook and refused to name one winner for the prestigious fiction trophy.

Partly inspired by the environmental protesters of Extinction Rebellion, who were demonstrating near the prize ceremony’s venue in London’s financial district, Chairman of Judges, Peter Florence said that the judges refused to back down when told the rules prohibit more than one winner.

The victory brings together two firsts - Atwood is the oldest to ever to win the Booker while Evaristo is the first woman of colour to do so. Atwood has been awarded for her global bestseller 'The Testaments', a sequel to the now viral 1986 dustopian classic "the Handmaid's Tale" while Evaristo's novel "Girl, Woman, Other" spoke about the lives of 12 black women in Britain. However, the decision to split the award has led to controversy.

While many rejoiced the choice, some including the prize's literary director Gaby Woods have complained about the jury's breaking of the rules. In an op-ed, The Guardian's fiction editor said that the decision "feels like a fudge, weighing a huge event novel against a more obscure choice and trying to have it both ways".

Many on social media also attacked the decision but not always for the same reason. Some were of the opinion that splitting the award between Atwood and Evaristo ended up overshadowing the latter's victory which is significant in terms of black representation.

Meanwhile, others came out in support of both writers.

Both Evaristo and Atwood have given gracious speeches and comments since the announcement. “It would have been quite embarrassing for a person of my age and stage to have won the whole thing and thereby have kept a younger one, at different stage of their career, from going through that door,” said Atwood, whose 'Tha Handmaid's Tale' is today a major global success and has spawned a successful television series.

Evaristo, the Anglo-Nigerian author whose Girl, Woman and Other is her eighth novel, said winning the Booker was something that “felt so unattainable for decades."

"I’m just absolutely delighted to have the prize and to share the prize," she said. On becoming the first black woman to win the award, Evaristo said that it was a "bittersweet experience"

"In one sense it’s great to be the first, but I shouldn’t be the first," she told reporters after winning the award in London. But she added that the world had moved ahead and that the culture was changing. "Hopefully it will inspire people. Hopefully I will be a role model, especially to writers of colour," she said.

(With excerpts from Associated Press)

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