It was a great day for African fiction. Two African women made the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist: Tsitsi Dangaremgba for This Mournable Body and Maaza Mengiste for The Shadow King.
Dangarembga and Mengiste are joined on the shortlist by finalists Diane Cook for The New Wilderness, Avni Doshi for Burnt Sugar, Douglas Stuart for Shuggie Bain, and Brandon Taylor for Real Life.
According to The Guardian, Maaza Mengiste is the first Ethiopian writer to make the Booker Prize shortlist.
This is also Tsitsi Dangarembga’s first time on the Booker shortlist, but readers around the world have followed her protagonist throughout the decades since the publication of Nervous Conditions (1988) and Book of Not (2006). This Mournable Body (2018) is the last installment in Dangarembga’s Tambudzai trilogy.
It is not the first time that two African writers are appearing on the shortlist. Last year, Chigozie Obioma and Bernardine Evaristo were both shortlisted. But it is the first time that the two shortlisted African writers are both women. It’s fair to say that this milestone is as much a win for African literature as it is for African women writers.
Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo called this year’s shortlist “groundbreaking.” There are a few reasons why. It features four books from independent publishers, four women writers, and four writers of color, making it the most diverse Booker Prize shortlist to date.
What accounts for this diversity? As Evaristo pointed out in a statement on Twitter, it has a lot to do with the fact that the judging panel this year is also diverse, the chair being Margaret Busby, the celebrated Ghanaian-British publisher.
Dangarembga shared her excitement on Twitter:
Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King (2019) is a modern epic that centers narratives of Ethiopian women’s resistance during the second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1937). The novel became an immediate favorite of critics and writers upon its release in 2019, and is set to be adapted to film by Atlas Entertainment and Harriet (2019) director, Kasi Lemmons.
Mengiste was thrilled by the news:
Congratulations to Tsitsi Dangarembga and Maaza Mengiste! We are rooting for you both!