It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the lists of books being considered for famed literary prizes begin circulating to remind you that no matter how many books you read during the pandemic — 2 or 200 — there are simply too many books and not enough hours in the day. Today, the shortlist for the Booker Prize was announced, and it is comprises six authors, none of whom, almost shockingly given the recent history, are Hilary Mantel. They are Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart, and Brandon Taylor. They are also, however, and more importantly, a history-making group of writers for the prize. Four are debut authors, four are women, and four are people of color, which makes the shortlist the most diverse group ever in consideration for the Booker.
Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body is the third and final installment in a trilogy that tells the story of Tambu, a woman navigating postcolonial Zimbabwe. (Dangarembga, who is Zimbabwean, was arrested in Harare, the nation’s capital, in July while protesting government corruption.) Mengiste’s The Shadow King is the Ethiopian American writer’s second novel. Set right before the second Italo-Ethiopian War, it tells the story of a woman who guards the titular “shadow king,” a man impersonating an exiled Ethiopian leader. (Her first, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was published back in 2010.)
The other four writers are all making their debuts: Diane Cook for her dystopian The New Wilderness; Douglas Stuart with Shuggie Bain, a portrait of a tumultuous childhood in 1980s Scotland marked by addiction and violence; Brandon Taylor’s Real Life, which chronicles a Black gay college student; and Avni Doshi for Burnt Sugar, a tale of a daughter and mother trying and struggling to make sense of each other.
The Booker Prize winner will be announced on November 17.