Zimbabwe's Tsitsi Dangarembga among Booker Prize debut nominees

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Tsitsi Dangarembga's This Mournable Body, is among four debut novels to be included on the shortlist for this year's Booker Prize.

With four writers of colour among its six authors, the nominees are the most diverse line-up in the prize’s history.

Hilary Mantel,who has won the award twice and was among the favourites to be nominated, was left off the list.She had been tipped for a record third win for The Mirror and the Light.

Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor – are up against the acclaimed Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Ethiopian-American, Maaza Mengiste for the £50,000 award.

The Booker Prize, which is the UK's most prestigious literary award, is open to any novel written in English by an author of any nationality.

Apart from Dangarembga, all the authors are from the US or hold joint US citizenship. The rules were changed in 2014 to allow any writer writing in English and published in the UK to compete for the award

Commenting on Mantel's omission, judge Lee Child said: "We thought it was an absolutely wonderful novel, no question about it but there were books that were better, that's all I can say personally."

The topics covered by the six nominees include stories about climate change, the hardship of life in Zimbabwe, dementia, and the women soldiers of 1935 Ethiopia.

The shortlist

Mengiste has been shortlisted for her story of the ordinary people who rose up during Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King, is the first Ethiopian writer to make the Booker shortlist.

Dangarembga made the shortlist for This Mournable Body, a sequel to her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions. It follows a woman trying to make a life for herself in post-colonial Zimbabwe. The author, who was recently arrested in Harare during a peaceful protest against government corruption is due in court on 18 September.

Cook’s The New Wilderness, follows the story of a mother trying to keep her daughter safe after an environmental disaster; while Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, is about the toxic relationship between an adult woman and her ageing mother.

Taylor’s Real Life, a campus novel tackles racism and homophobia; and Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, is a story of a childhood affected by poverty and addiction in 1980s Glasgow.

Margaret Busby, chair of this year's judges said the shortlist came together unexpectedly.

"Voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different.We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience," she said.

Last year’s winner, Bernardine Evaristo, who was jointly awarded the prize with Margaret Atwood, wrote on Twitter that she was excited by this groundbreaking shortlist for the 21st century.

“If you’re looking for fresh perspectives and narratives, surely you’re going to find it among the most underrepresented voices?” she wrote.

The judges read 162 novels to come up with their shortlist. Mantel was not the only major name who made the longlist but missed out on the shortlist: Anne Tyler and Colum McCann also failed to make the final cut.

The winner will be announced on 17 November, with the traditional dinner at the Guildhall in London.

The 2020 shortlist

Tsitsi Dangarembga - This Mournable Body

Maaza Mengiste, -The Shadow King

Diane Cook - The New Wilderness

Avni Doshi, - Burnt Sugar

Douglas Stuart - Shuggie Bain

Brandon Taylor - Real Life