Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments tied this week for the Booker prize. She shares the honor with Bernardine Evaristo for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. This move surprises many. Especially since the rules were changed in the 90’s to ensure that only one book could win the top prize. The judges intentionally broke the rules this year in order to split the prize between the two authors.
The Testaments tied for the Booker Prize with Girl, Woman, Other
This marks the second time that Atwood has won the Booker prize. She first received the award in 2000 for her novel The Blind Assassin. Four of her novels have also appeared on the shortlist over the course of her career. Atwood is no stranger to literary awards. And at age 79, she is also the oldest winner of the Booker Prize. However, Bernardine Evaristo also makes history with this win by becoming the first ever black woman to receive the award.
There was swift backlash to the announcement. Many critics are angry that the first black woman to win the award has to share it. Many feel that Evaristo’s historic win is overshadowed. They also feel it is unfair that she will not receive the full monetary compensation that a sole winner would receive. However, this enmity does not appear to extend to the two authors themselves. Atwood and Evaristo took to the stage arm in arm to accept the award, presenting a united front. Evaristo plans to put her prize money towards her mortgage, while Atwood will donate her winnings to a Canadian Indigenous Charity that she works with.
The Judges Intentionally ‘Flouted’ The Rules To Make This Decision
The judges apparently debated over the decision for five hours. According to the official press release, the judges asked several times if the award could be split and were told no. Eventually they declared that this was a unanimous decision and that the $50,000 would be split between the two authors. The Booker Prize has been jointly awarded twice before. Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton split it in 1974. Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth shared the honor in 1992. After these splits, the Booker Foundation actively changed their rules to ensure that only one author could win in the future.
Director of the Booker Foundation – Gaby Wood – issued the following statement.
“Over an agonising five hours, the 2019 Booker Prize judges discussed all of the much-loved books on their shortlist, and found it impossible to single out one winner. They were not so much divided as unwilling to jettison any more when they finally got down to two, and asked if they might split the prize between them. On being told that it was definitively against the rules, the judges held a further discussion and chose to flout them.”
The Testaments came out earlier this year to critical acclaim in genre and literary circles alike. The novel is the follow-up to Atwood’s dystopian feminist classic The Handmaid’s Tale. It explores the world of Gilead fifteen years after the first novel, from the point of view of three very different women. Girl, Woman, Other is also a work of feminist fiction, that follows the stories of 15 different characters. Most of these characters are women of color living in England. These novels sound as though they diverge wildly from one another, but at the heart of each novel are the voices of women. These voices are powerful and necessary for readers to hear, and understand.
(Featured image via The Booker Foundation)
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.