Joint winners Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo make history by sharing the Booker Prize

The Booker Prize judges defied strict rules this year by declaring a tie between the two female writers

Words by Claire McCrory

For the first time in history, two female authors have won the coveted Booker Prize.

Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, which is the Canadian writer’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, was recognised alongside Evaristo’s novel, Girl, Women, Other.

Since its creation 50 years ago, the Booker Prize has been shared just twice before, with this being the first time both winners have been female. The rules were changed in 1992, stating that the prize ‘may not be divided or withheld.’

Gaby Wood, the literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, discussed the justification behind this: ‘The thinking was it just doesn’t work – it sort of detracts attention from both, rather than drawing attention to either.’

This year, however, after a deliberation that lasted five hours, the judges were left with no other choice but to break the rules after finding it impossible to choose between the two esteemed writers.

Both books, claimed Peter Florence, the chair of the judges, ‘have urgent things to say.’ He added: ‘ They also happen to be wonderfully compelling, page-turning thrillers, which can speak at different levels to all sorts of different readerships.’

Londoner Evaristo is the first black woman to ever receive the prize. Girl, Women, Other is the 60-year-old writer’s eighth novel, and tells the story of 12 characters – mostly black British women. The fiction novel raises questions about feminism and race, and includes several LQBTQ+ characters.

When asked about her achievement, Evaristo said: ‘Yes, I am sharing it (the prize) with an amazing writer. But I am not thinking about sharing it, I am thinking about the fact I am here and that’s an incredible thing considering what the prize has meant to me and my literary life, and the fact that it felt so unattainable for decades.’

Atwood’s The Testaments is a sequel to The Handmaids Tale, set 15 years after the original book.

The first novel was first adapted as a film starring Natasha Richardson in 1990, and who hasn’t seen the BAFTA award winning television drama staring Elizabeth Moss? This is the second time Atwood has won, having previously picked up the award in 2000 for The Blind Assassin. 

After walking arm-in-arm on stage with Evaristo, Atwood endearingly joked: ‘I would have thought I would have been too elderly, and I kind of don’t need the attention, so I’m very glad that you’re getting some.’

She added: ‘It would have been quite embarrassing for me… if I had been alone here, so I’m very pleased that you’re here too.’

In 2018 the prize was awarded to Belfast-born Author Anna Burns for her experimental novel Milkman, she is the first Northern Irish novelist to be awarded to prize.

That’s two new picks added to the book club list anyway, girls!

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