Awards of any kind are weighted with subjectivity and competition, two qualities that can make them seem unilluminating, corrupting, or just plain useless. Yet the public is still drawn to what critics and judges deem the best of the best: We closely watch the Oscars and the Emmys, and pore over Pulitzer Prize–winning works. This week, with the announcement of the 2020 Booker Prize longlist, avid and casual readers alike have a new group of novels to dive into, before the winner is named later this year.
In the past, the Booker Prize has come under scrutiny for a lack of diversity among its nominees. This year, though, the judges have chosen to elevate several authors of color, whose books encompass a breadth of experiences and perspectives; among them are Tsitsi Dangarembga, for This Mournable Body; Kiley Reid, for Such a Fun Age; and Brandon Taylor, for Real Life. Also longlisted is the two-time winner Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light, the last novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.
For those who may already be caught up on the recent selections, the Booker Prize announcement is a nudge to revisit winners of the past two years, all books featuring the voices of women. Last year’s prize was shared by Margaret Atwood, for The Testaments, her long-awaited follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, and Bernardine Evaristo, for Girl, Woman, Other, a beautiful exploration of the intersecting lives of 12 characters, many of them Black women, over decades. And Anna Burns’s Milkman, the 2018 winner, is a stream-of-consciousness novel set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland that plays with the concept of an open secret.
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