The Booker Prize judges “explicitly flouted” the rules of the prize, choosing two winners for the first time in more than 25 years. Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo. At 79 years old, Atwood is the oldest writer to ever receive the prize. Even more exciting, Bernadine Evaristo is the first black woman to win the Booker Prize since it began in 1969.
After five hours with the prize’s jury, the judges emerged to announce they had been unable to select just one winner. Even knowing that the prize’s director, Gary Wood, would not allow them to split up the $50,000 prize, the judges chose Atwood The Testaments and Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other as joint winners.
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The prize has been split twice before – between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton in 1974, and between Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth in 1992 – but the rules were changed after 1992 to stipulate that the prize “may not be divided or withheld.”
Peter Florence, the chair of the judges, commented that the choice to split the prize was difficult but, in the judges’ opinion, necessary:
Our consensus was that it was our decision to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners…These are two books we started not wanting to give up and the more we talked about them the more we treasured both of them and wanted them both as winners … We couldn’t separate them.
After the ceremony at London’s Guildhall, Margaret Atwood said:
It would have been quite embarrassing for a person of my age and stage to have won the whole thing and thereby hinder a person in an earlier stage of their career from going through that door. I really would have been embarrassed, trust me on that…I’m not the jury. I have been on a jury that split the prize and I understand the predicament. I get it … they should have split it 13 ways but unfortunately that’s not how it goes.
Evaristo also commented on her historic win:
I’m just so delighted to have won the prize. Yes, I am sharing it with an amazing writer. But I am not thinking about sharing it, I am thinking about the fact that I am here and that’s an incredible thing considering what the prize has meant to me and my literary life, and the fact that it felt so unattainable for decades.
Atwood confirmed she would donate her $25,000 share of the prize to the Canadian Indigenous charity Indspire, which she has previously helped with her late friend and First Nations leader Chief Harry St Denis.
Commenting again on the unorthodox choice to have two winners, Florence said:
Nobody was taking this lightly but equally there was a sense of perspective – we are judging a book prize, and this is a celebration of great literature. There are opportunities to be joyful here.
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