Books

Four debut novels, five Americans make 2020 Booker Prize shortlist

The award, worth £50,000 ($86,990 Cdn), annually recognizes the best original novel written in the English language published in the U.K.

The £50,000 ($86,990 Cdn) award annually recognizes the best original novel written in English

Six writers have made the shortlist for the 2020 Booker Prize. (Booker Prize)

Four debut novels have made the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist, with five of the six nominees being from the U.S.

The award, worth £50,000 ($86,990 Cdn), annually recognizes the best original novel written in the English language published in the U.K.

The debuts all came from American writers: Diane Cook, Douglas Scott, Avni Doshi and Brandon Taylor. 

Cook, who is also a radio producer, is nominated for The New Wilderness. The New Wilderness is about a woman struggling to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change. Cook is also the author of the short story collection Man v. Nature.

Stuart, who is Scottish American, has made the shortlist for Shuggie Bain, about a woman and her son struggling to survive poverty and alienation in 1980s Glasgow.

Taylor's shortlisted novel is called Real Life. It's about Wallace, a Black man from Alabama going to a university in the midwest and what he does to protect himself and his education while attending a mostly white university.

Doshi, who is currently living in Dubai, is on the shortlist for Burnt Sugar, a novel about a woman who pursued an unconventional life and must now rebuild it after she starts to get older, and the daughter she neglected becomes her caregiver. Burnt Sugar will be published in Canada in spring 2021.

Ethiopian American writer Maaza Mengiste is nominated for The Shadow King.

The Shadow King explores the role of women during Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia — a conflict that many consider to be the start of the Second World War. The story revolves around Hirut, a young Ethiopian woman who takes up arms to join the fight against Mussolini's brutal occupation. Mengiste is also the author of the novel Beneath the Lion's Gaze.

Tsitsi Dangarembga, a writer, playwright and filmmaker from Zimbabwe is the only non-American on the shortlist.

Her novel This Mournable Body is the story of a young Zimbabwean woman who struggles to maintain hope after a series of failures and humiliations have put her future in jeopardy and decides to return to her hometown to start over. Dangarembga is also the author of several books, including the novels Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not.

The jury is comprised of editor and literary critic Margaret Busby, authors Lee Child and Sameer Rahim, writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay and translator Emily Wilson.

162 books were submitted for consideration for 2020. 

"The best novels often prepare our societies for valuable conversations, and not just about the inequities and dilemmas of the world — whether in connection with climate change, forgotten communities, old age, racism, or revolution when necessary — but also about how magnificent the interior life of the mind, imagination and spirit is, in spite of circumstance. The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different. We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience," Busby, who is serving as the jury chair, said in a statement.

The winner will be announced on Nov. 17, 2020.

A surprising omission from the shortlist was Hilary Mantel's novel The Mirror & the Light, which is the third and final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The Mirror & the Light was among the 13 titles on the longlist.

The two previous titles in Mantel's series won the Booker Prize: first in 2009 for Wolf Hall, and again in 2012 for its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies

No Canadians were recognized for the 2020 prize. Since 2013, authors from any nationality have been eligible.

Margaret Atwood shared the 2019 prize with British novelist Bernardine Evaristo. Atwood was recognized for her novel The Testaments, and Evaristo for her novel Girl, Woman, OtherThey split the prize money evenly.

Two other Canadians other than Atwood have won the prize since its inception in 1969: Michael Ondaatje in 1992 for The English Patient and Yann Martel in 2002 for Life of Pi.

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