Books

Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share 2019 Booker Prize

Margaret Atwood's The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other have jointly won the 2019 Booker Prize.
Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo are co-winners of the 2019 Booker Prize. (Tolga Akmen/Getty Images)

Margaret Atwood won her second Booker Prize and Bernardine Evaristo became the first black woman to win the award when the jury decided to give the annual £50,000 (approx. $86,990 Cdn) honour to both their books.

Atwood won for The Testamentsher sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, and Evaristo won for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. They will split the prize money evenly.

The Booker Prize annually recognizes the best original novel written in the English language and published in the U.K. 

Jury chair Peter Florence explained that the judges took a vote and couldn't come to a consensus, which is why they decided to break the prize's official rules and declare a tie.

Atwood's novel is set 15 years after the end of The Handmaid's Talewhich left the fate of the oppressed narrator Offred unknown. 

The new novel contains the "explosive testaments" of three women: a young woman growing up inside Gilead, a high school student living in Canada who wants to see Gilead fall and Aunt Lydia, a powerful woman who knows the inner workings of Gilead all too well. 

"I'm very surprised. I would have thought I would have been too elderly and I kind of don't need the attention," said Atwood on-stage with Evaristo.

"It would have been quite embarrassing for me, a good Canadian... if I had been alone here, so I'm very pleased that [Evaristo] is here too."

Atwood's novel broke Canadian sales records when it was released in September 2019 and is being developed for screen by Hulu and MGM Television

At 79, Atwood is the oldest ever Booker winner. She's also the fourth writer to win it twice, having won it in 2000 for The Blind Assassin. The Testaments is the third sequel to win, following Pat Barker's The Ghost Road and Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies.

Evaristo's book, Girl, Woman, Other, tells the interconnected stories of 12 characters, most of them black British women.

Each character is given their own chapter. Their stories overlap over a century of living as characters face their own unique set of dilemmas and choices.

"This is incredible. A lot of people say this — I never thought it would happen to me," said Evaristo in her acceptance speech.

"I am the first black woman to win this prize. I hope that honour doesn't last too long. I hope other people come forward now."

This is Evaristo's first time on the Booker Prize shortlist. The London-based writer is the author of seven other books, including Mr. Loverman, Soul Tourists and The Emperor's Babe.

Jury chair Florence said the judges felt that it was important that both books "are heard loudly and gloriously around the world."

"I don't think either of them sends a message. I think they ask huge questions," said jury chair Florence.

"How are these people visible in society? How are their stories told? What does resilience look like? What does courage look like in a time of volatility and aggression?"

Atwood turns 80 on Nov. 18. Her partner, Canadian novelist and conservationist Graeme Gibson, died shortly after The Testaments was released in September.

The other four shortlisted books were Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, Quichotte by Salman Rushdie and 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak.

The jury was comprised of Peter Florence, Afua Hirsch, Liz Calder, Xiaolu Guo and Joanna MacGregor.

This is the third time the Booker Prize has ended in a tie. It first happened in 1974 when it was shared by Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton, and then again in 1992 when Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth were co-winners.

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