Friday, July 29, 2016

The 2016 Man Booker Dozen - Should we Worry?

The Man Booker Prize has, overtime, become the most prestigious literary award, not because of its 50,000 Pounds Sterling prize money (which is good but dwarfed by Nigeria's US$ 100,000 NLNG Prize for Literature), but for the fame and opportunities it opens up for nominees. To be long-listed is itself an achievement and the route to literary fame. Every year readers, writers, publishers and literary aficionados look forward to long-list and then the countdown to the shortlist and winner begins.

Not until 2013, when it was announced that the award will be expanded (in 2014) to cover all books written in English by any author anywhere on the planet but published in the UK, the Man Booker has been reserved for only authors in Britain, Ireland, the Commonwealth, and Zimbabwe. Since its inception in 1968, the prize has given out 48 awards (including the Lost Man Booker Prize in 1970 and the award-sharing in 1974); however, very few nominees and, therefore, fewer winners have come from Africa. Three individual Africans have won the awards since 1968: Nadine Gordimer (South Africa) shared the award with another writer in 1974 with her novel The Conservationist; J.M. Coetzee (South Africa, now Australia) won the award in 1983 and 1999 with The Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace, respectively; and Ben Okri (Nigeria) won it in 1991 with The Famished Road. In addition, there has been a few shortlisted writers:

  1. Andre Brink, South Africa, 1976, An Instant in the Wind
  2. Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, 1984, Anthills of the Savanna  
  3. Abdulrazak Gurnah, Tanzania, 1994, Paradise
  4. Damon Galgut, South Africa, 2003, The Good Doctor
  5. J. M. Coetzee, South Africa, 2009, Summertime
  6. Damon Galgut, South Africa, 2010, In the Strange Room
  7. Esi Edugyan, Ghana/Canada, 2011, Half-Blood Blues
  8. NoViolet Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, 2013, We Need New Names
  9. Chigozie Obioma, Nigeria, 2015, The Fishermen
Though these individuals did not win the awards in the respective years that they were shortlisted, they were as good as they had won. The 2016 longlist released on July 27, 2016 had one African who is no longer an African on it - J.M. Coetzee.  
  1. Paul Beatty (US) - The Sellout (Oneworld)
  2. J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) - The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)
  3. A.L. Kennedy (UK) - Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)
  4. Deborah Levy (UK) - Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)
  5. Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) - His Bloody Project (Contraband)
  6. Ian McGuire (UK) - The North Water (Scribner UK)
  7. David Means (US) - Hystopia (Faber & Faber)
  8. Wyl Menmuir (UK) -The Many (Salt)
  9. Ottessa Moshfegh (US) - Eileen (Jonathan Cape)
  10. Virginia Reeves (US) - Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)
  11. Elizabeth Strout (US) - My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)
  12. David Szalay (Canada-UK) - All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)
  13. Madeleine Thien (Canada) - Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)
A brief assessment of Africa's representation indicates two things: the old are still dominant and the new are mostly diasporeans: Esi Edugyan, Chigozie Obioma. Having transformed itself into an award for all novels written in English, the award is expected to represent the best of English language novel. The question therefore is, does the dearth of representation from Africa indicate the lack of good literature? Or is it just the publishers who are not active enough to submit entries? Or is it just the usual forgetfulness of the world?

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