Ethiopian author Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King and Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangaremgba’s This Mournable Body are on the longlist of the 2020 Booker Prize.

This is the first nomination for either authors. Joining them on the female-dominated longlist of thirteen are two-time winner Hillary Mantel for The Mirror and the Light, the final installment in her Booker Prize-winning Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and the American author Anne Tyler and Irish novelist Column McCann for Redhead by The Side of The Road and Apeirogon respectively.

Mengiste’s The Shadow King has received rave reviews and accolades since its release in September 2019. Set during the second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-7), it centers the easily overlooked account of Ethiopian women who fought in the war. In addition to being optioned for film, the novel was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. Mengiste’s Lithub essay on her inspiration for writing the book was shortlisted for The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Essays & Think Pieces.

Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body, the last book in her Tambudzai trilogy, which includes Nervous Conditions (1988) and The Book of Not (2006) was published in August 2018. The book explores race, gender and class in post-independence Zimbabwe through the eyes of recurring protagonist Tambudzai. Hailed as “provocative and brilliant, ” the novel received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review and Booklist and was shortlisted for the 2020 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing (read an excerpt here).

Here’s the full longlist:

  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
  • This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
  • Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Apeirogon by Colum McCann
  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • Redhead by The Side of The Road by Anne Tyler
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
  • Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward
  • How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

The 13 novels were selected from a list of 162 novels by a panel of judges chaired by pioneering publisher and editor Margaret Busby. Busby commented that the books on the longlist capture diverse time periods and thematic focus. She also praised them for their “prose, the mastery of detail, the arresting sentence, the credibility of the narrative arc, the ability to use to the full  resources of storytelling.”

The Booker Prize Foundation literary director Gaby Wood noted the reduced visibility of new novels published in the UK amidst a pandemic while praising the high number of debut novels on the longlist, which represented more than half.

The 2019 prize was jointly awarded to British-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo for her eighth novel Girl, Woman, Other and Canadian author Margaret Atwood for The Testaments. Evaristo’s novel reportedly saw a tremendous spike in sales following its win, going on to secure additional accolades. It has since being published in over 32 countries and was recently optioned for Television.

A shortlist of six will be announced on September 15 while the winner will be announced in November.

Brittle Paper congratulates Maaza Mengiste and Tsitsi Dangaremgba.