By Japhet Davidson, with agency reports
THE judges of this year’s Booker prize have “explicitly flouted” the rules of the august literary award to choose the first joint winners in almost 30 years: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. With this Atwood and Evaristo become the first authors to jointly win the Booker Prize since 1992.
Atwood’s The Testaments, the Canadian writer’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, was recognised alongside Londoner Evaristo’s novel Girl, Woman, Other.
The pair will split the literary award’s £50,000 prize money equally.
The Booker rules say the prize must not be divided, but the judges insisted they “couldn’t separate” the two works.
Atwood, 79, is the oldest ever Booker winner, while Evaristo is the first black woman to win.
After their names were called, the pair stood arm-in-arm on stage and Atwood 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.
“It would have been quite embarrassing for me… if I had been alone here, so I’m very pleased that you’re here too.”
The award’s rules were changed after the last tie in 1992, and organisers told this year’s judges they were not allowed to pick two winners.
But after five hours of deliberations, Peter Florence, the chair of the judges, said: “It was our decision to flout the rules.”
He told reporters: “The more we talked about them, the more we found we loved them both so much we wanted them both to win.”
Evaristo said winning was “a real game changer”, adding: “It means my work gets out there to a much wider audience around the world.
“There are lots of prizes which people from certain communities don’t win, certainly black people don’t win lots of literary awards. No one seems to notice, but it’s really important.
“A black woman has never won [the Booker before]. Only four black women have ever been shortlisted and there have been about 300 books shortlisted.
“Hopefully this signals a new direction for the Booker and the kind of judges they have. This year there were four women judges and one male.
“I hope more black women win this prize.”
Atwood, who is from Ottawa, said: “It’s great to be sharing with Bernardine… and I certainly hope you’ll come to Canada, bring your warm clothing!”
She told Evaristo: “What you have done is to make it possible for more black women to consider that writing is something they can do.”