man booker

The judges of this year’s Man Booker Prize have produced the most racially diverse shortlist in its 46-year-old history. Of the six handpicked authors, there are four writers of colour: Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria), Hanya Yanagihara (US), Marlon James (Jamaica) and Sunjeev Sahota (UK). Anne Tyler (US) and Tom McCarthy (UK) complete the list. 

For much of its history, the Man Booker Prize has been contested by resoundingly white and male shortlist candidates. Over the last four decades, six of its 46 winners were authors of colour and, out of the 13 female winners, only two were from minority backgrounds. Diversity, be it in ethnicity or gender, is not the British award’s strongest point.  

Reasons for its bias range from publishers not putting forward a diverse selection of novels to whitewashed judging panels and literary critics favouring white authors (in 2011, Roxanne Gay found that 90% of the books reviewed by the New York Times were written by white authors).

Yet the presence of just two white entries on this year’s six-man shortlist may signal an acceptance of the variety, shades and cultural understandings within the discipline of English literary canon.

Before the winner is announced on October 13, become acquainted with the shortlisted writers of colour with this round up:

Chigozie Obioma: The Fisherman

Despite being the youngest member of the shortlist, Obioma has created an accomplished debut novel, prompting some to name the 28-year-old as the heir to Chinua Achebe. Set in Nigeria in the 1990s, this coming-of-age tragedy follows four young brothers embarking on a fishing trip during the absence of their strict father. There they meet a man who prophesizes that one of them will kill their eldest brother, Ikenna. While the elements of tragedy and the inability to avoid one’s fate underscore the prose, it is the eventual turning of brother against brother that makes the novel a clever allegory for post-independence Nigeria.

Buy the book here

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

Yanagihara’s stark book is a favourite to win the prize. Her second novel follows the lives of four 20-something friends starting new lives in New York. While all the characters have had difficult lives, it is the most successful out of the four, Jude, who stands out. Having endured horrific abuse as a child, Jude seems unable to surmount the trauma of his earlier life. His habitual self-harm, which causes him to lose the use of his legs and create a body riddled with scars, tests the limits of both the men’s friendship and the reader’s resilience in what has been called a grim, psychological tale of enduring friendship and inescapable gloom.

Buy the book here

Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings

James’ third novel is an exhilarating 700-page epic anchored around the 1976 attempt to assassinate Bob Marley. From there the story springboards to Jamaican politics, gang wars in the ghettos of Kingston, race, class, poverty and the CIA’s efforts to destabilise the country’s government in the 1970s. The book is a darling of the literary critics and there is even talk of A Brief History of Seven Killings becoming a TV show for HBO. Despite the Booker Prize having always being open to English literature from Commonwealth nations, James became the first Jamaican national to win a nomination for the literary prize.

Buy the book here

Sunjeev Sahota: The Year of The Runaway 

Sahorta’s novel humanises the people so often demonised in Britain: immigrants. The Derby-born author, who won Granta Best Young British Novelist in 2013, has created a lyrical epic that follows the life of three Indian men sharing a dilapidated house in Sheffield and one British Indian woman.  Flitting between their memories of being back in India and their experiences of the UK, the reader witnesses the men’s realisation that life in Britain can be harder and crueller than the homes they left behind. As Kamila Shamsie says in the Guardian: “This is a novel that takes on the largest questions and still shines in its smallest details.”

Buy the book here

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Tara John is a freelance journalist and the Arts & Culture Editor at Media Diversified. Her work has been published in TIME Magazine, The Straits Times, The Times and NDTV. She was formerly the Web Editor of Time Out Singapore and worked at Reuters as a sub-editor on the Global Pictures Desk. Say hi to her on Twitter @tarajohn 

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One thought on “Man Booker Prize 2015: Writers of Colour Dominate This Year’s Shortlist

  1. Awesome! But we don’t need acceptance or inclusion. How does that benefit us? I love that brothers and sisters of color are getting well-deserved recognition, but we need our own shit.

    Like

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