[The JRB Daily] Tsitsi Dangarembga, Maaza Mengiste longlisted for 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction

The longlist for the Booker Prize for Fiction has been announced, including Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga and Ethiopian–American author Maaza Mengiste.

Dangarembga is longlisted for This Mournable Body, the third novel in the Tambudzai Trilogy that began with Nervous Conditions. The book ‘drew an immediate reaction like a sharp intake of breath’ from the judges.

Mengiste is longlisted for The Shadow King, her second novel, set during Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia and described by the judges as ‘a brave, noble, gripping book that would not have been written at any other point in history’.

The Booker Prize is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the UK or Ireland.

The prize was opened to writers of all citizenships in 2014, prompting widespread concern that American novelists would come to dominate the award, squeezing out writers from territories traditionally less well-represented in international publishing. This pattern did seem to be emerging, although last year there was just one author of American heritage on the list. This year, however, nine of the thirteen longlisted writers are either American or have dual US heritage.

This year’s longlist was chosen from 162 novels published between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020. It includes eight debut novels, including Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, which tells the story of a young Black woman who is wrongly accused of kidnapping while babysitting a white child, C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold, in which two Chinese children try to survive in nineteenth-century American West after their impoverished parents die, and Real Life by Brandon Taylor, which follows an introverted Black queer biochemistry student from a small town in Alabama.

Hilary Mantel is longlisted for The Mirror & The Light, the final book in her Cromwell trilogy, which was selected for its ‘masterful exhibition of sly dialogue and exquisite description’. Mantel has previously won the prize twice—for the first two novels in the trilogy.

Independent press Oneworld, which won two consecutive Booker Prizes in 2015 and 2016 with Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, makes the list again this year with Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness, the short-story writer’s first novel.

2020 Booker Prize longlist

Author (country/territory) Title (imprint)

  • Diane Cook (USA) The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) This Mournable Body (Faber & Faber)
  • Avni Doshi (USA) Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
  • Gabriel Krauze (UK) Who They Was (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • Hilary Mantel (UK) The Mirror & The Light (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • Colum McCann (Ireland/USA) Apeirogon (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA) The Shadow King (Canongate Books)
  • Kiley Reid (USA) Such a Fun Age (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Brandon Taylor (USA) Real Life (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing)
  • Anne Tyler (USA) Redhead by The Side of The Road (Chatto & Windus, Vintage)
  • Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA) Shuggie Bain (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
  • Sophie Ward (UK) Love and Other Thought Experiments (Corsair, Little, Brown)
  • C Pam Zhang (USA) How Much of These Hills is Gold (Virago, Little, Brown)

This year’s panel of five judges is Margaret Busby (chair), editor, literary critic and former publisher; Lee Child, author; Sameer Rahim, author and critic; Lemn Sissay, writer and broadcaster; and Emily Wilson, classicist and translator.

Busby says:

‘Each of these books carries an impact that has earned it a place on the longlist, deserving of wide readership.

‘Included are novels carried by the sweep of history with memorable characters brought to life and given visibility, novels that represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre- and post-dystopian society. Some of the books focus on interpersonal relationships that are complex, nuanced, emotionally charged. There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing.

‘The best fiction enables the reader to relate to other people’s lives; sharing experiences that we could not ourselves have imagined is as powerful as being able to identify with characters.

‘As judges we connected with these writers’ well-crafted prose, the mastery of detail, the arresting sentence, the credibility of the narrative arc, the ability to use to the full, the resources of storytelling. Unplanned, our final selection encompasses both seasoned favourites and debut talents ― a truly satisfying outcome.’

Gaby Wood, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, adds:

‘When the judges had drawn up their longlist of thirteen books, one of them said: “Out of interest, how many debuts are there?” We counted. It was more than half the list. That’s an unusually high proportion, and especially surprising to the judges themselves, who had admired many books by more established authors, and regretted having to let them go.

‘It is perhaps obvious that powerful stories can come from unexpected places and in unfamiliar forms; nevertheless, this kaleidoscopic list serves as a reminder.

‘In this year of seismic change, visibility for new books published in the UK has been drastically low. So, however unintended the ratio, it’s especially heartening to know that some authors who have launched their careers in the midst of Covid-19 may now have a chance to reach the readers they deserve.’

The shortlist of six books will be announced on Tuesday, 15 September, and the 2020 winner will be announced in November.

The winner of the 2020 Booker Prize receives £50,000 (about R1 million) and can expect international recognition. The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book.

The 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction was won jointly by The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. In the week following the announcement, sales of The Testaments rose from 11,955 to 13,400 copies while Girl, Woman, Other sold 5,980 copies, more than double its lifetime sales up to that point and a 1,340% increase week on week.

Girl, Woman, Other has now spent twenty-five weeks in the UK’s Sunday Times Top Ten in hardback and paperback, several at number one and its combined sales in all editions and formats are heading towards half a million.

The book will be published in thirty-two territories internationally and TV rights have been optioned by Potboiler. After its Booker win it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and won the best fiction book at the 2020 British Book Awards, while Evaristo picked up Author of the Year.

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