What a year for African literature!
The South African author Damon Galgut has been announced winner of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Promise, an inter-generational epic with sweeping themes of loyalty, trust and betrayal. He is the fifth African to earn this honor.
Galgut was announced winner from a water-tight shortlist that included fellow African Nadifa Mohammed and acclaimed author Richard Powers. The winning novel had received rave reviews upon publication and was an early favorite for the Booker. Galgut himself is no stranger to the prize, earning previous shortlists in 2003 and 2010 for The Good Doctor and In a Strange Room respectively.
Born in Pretoria, South Africa, Damon Galgut was diagnosed with cancer as a child. He spent bits of his childhood on a hospital bed, the boredom potent enough to propel his mind’s wandering. His first novel, published in his teens, established him as a prodigy. Now regarded as one of the most important writers in South Africa, his body of work includes nine novels and four plays.
The Promise chronicles a white South African family who must fulfill a promise made to their black servant. The novel was described by Nigerian writer and prize judge Chigozie Obioma as “a testament to the flourishing of the novel in the 21st century.”
The prize ceremony, hosted by Samira Ahmed and broadcasted live by the BBC, featured all of the shortlisted authors in attendance from their bases all over the world. Ben Okri, the Nigerian writer and a former winner, reflected on what it meant to his career to have won the prize exactly thirty years ago. There was also a pitch to direct six short films on the shortlisted books.
The 2019 prize was won by the Nigerian writer Bernardine Evaristo. Previous African winners include J. M Coetzee twice in 1983 for The Lives and Times of Michael K and 1999 for Disgrace.
We cannot express enough our delight at Galgut’s well-deserved win, especially as it adds to a staggering string of wins for African literature. In a single year, Africans have garnered wins for some of the world’s major prizes including the Nobel Prize, the German Peace Book Prize, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and the Camões Award to name a few. It is our hope that this becomes a trend that continues.
May African literature continue to reign!
Super congratulations to Damon Galgut!