“This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history,”
So said the chair of judges for last year’s prize. While he went on to discuss subject matter, you only need to look at the longlist itself to see that it was indeed a triumph of diversity. It featured thirteen authors from seven countries across five continents and, unusually for the prize, more than half of them were women. This year, the first time the criteria have been opened up to authors from outside the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe, the picture is, as you can see, very different:
So let’s recap. That’s three women, and one a half non-white people (the half being Joseph O’Neill who has Turkish ancestry). The youngest white man is 40, and most of them are at least into their fifties. They are representing four countries from three continents: Britain, Ireland, Australia, and the USA.
This is not okay.
Everyone has a responsibility to recognize their own internal biases and act upon them, especially the board of an internationally famous and celebrated Literary Prize such like the Man Booker Prize. Who, incidentally, look like this:
Without having read any of the books longlisted, and acknowledging that I disagreed with a number of the nominations last year, I don’t doubt that all thirteen novels are worthy of praise. However, for one of the most prestigious book awards to essentially ignore such a wide proportion of the authors who are writing in the world today especially since the criteria is even wider this year, is inexcusable.
It suggests that the only people who have stories worth experiencing are those that come out of the Western world, either through birth, or in the case of Neel Mukherjee who is “representing” Britain and studied at the University of East Anglia, naturalisation.
It suggests that the only people who have stories worth experiencing are those who are older and therefore better.
It suggests that there are very few women who have stories worth experiencing.
It does in fact, suggest somewhat ironically, given the changed rules and the fact that the announcement comes on the eve of the opening of the Commonwealth Games, a very un-Post-Colonial attitude to literature.
It definitely hints at the rather murky undertones to the concept of the Commonwealth that everyone, at least here in Britain, is taught not to think about.
It is not okay.