Evaristo, an experimental writer who is well established in Britain but not widely known internationally, is a more surprising choice. In her eight works of fiction, Evaristo, who was born in London in 1959 to a white English mother and a Nigerian father, often explores the lives of members of the African diaspora. “Girl, Woman, Other” features a dozen characters, most of them black British women. It’s written in a blend of poetry and prose, a hybrid that Evaristo calls “fusion fiction.”
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Evaristo said she wrote “Girl, Woman, Other” in part because she wanted to focus on the experience of black British women, who are rarely featured prominently in contemporary literature. “I wanted to put presence into absence,” she said.
The other novels on the shortlist included Lucy Ellmann’s “Ducks, Newburyport,” a 1,000 page novel about a middle-aged woman in Ohio reflecting on her life while baking, which unfolds almost entirely in a single sentence; Chigozie Obioma’s “An Orchestra of Minorities,” about a Nigerian poultry farmer called Chinonso who stops a woman from jumping to her death and falls in love with her; Salman Rushdie’s “Quichotte,” a retelling of “Don Quixote” that features a traveling salesman on a quest to win over a beautiful television host; and Elif Shafak’s “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World,” a story about a sex worker in Istanbul who is murdered and left in the garbage on the outskirts of the city.
Compared to previous years, in which Americans were heavily represented, writers from the United States were scarce this year. The sole American on the shortlist is Ellmann, a native of Illinois who now lives in Scotland.
Evaristo and Atwood will split the prize money of 50,000 pounds, around $63,000, although the Booker, first awarded in 1969, normally delivers a sales boost. Anna Burns’s “Milkman,” an experimental novel about a woman during Northern Ireland’s civil conflict, has sold over 500,000 copies since winning the prize last year.
The Booker is one of the literary world’s most prestigious prizes. Past winners include Rushdie, who was shortlisted for this year’s prize, as well as such literary heavyweights as Hilary Mantel and J.M. Coetzee. Atwood now joins Mantel, Coetzee and Peter Carey in the small club of authors to have won twice.