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Novice novelists and women dominate the list of Booker Prize finalists

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LONDON The early novelists topped the list of finalists for this year’s Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes, the judges announced on Tuesday, while star authors like Hilary Mantel and Anne Tyler were absent on the list.

Four of the six shortlisted books are from first-time writers, three of whom are American, while the fourth has dual Scottish and American citizenship. Four of the shortlisted books are women.

Nominated debuts include Douglas Stuarts Shuggie Bain, a violent tale of a child growing up in 1980s Scotland; and Brandon Taylors Real Life, about a black gay graduate student cruising around campus.

Diane Cooks The New Wilderness, set in a dystopian future in which almost all of the natural world has been destroyed; and Avni Doshis Burnt sugar, about an artist struggling to cope with her aging mother, are the other two debuts on the list.

The number of debuts came as a surprise, said Sameer Rahim, an author and one of the judges, at a press conference in London announcing the shortlist. But he said it was a red herring to focus on this issue, as many writers had previous writing experience.

The judges also read the majority of the books submitted on the PDFs, few of which contained biographical information, Rahim added, so they were unsure which were novice novelists. You don’t have time to Google the authors, he says.

In previous years, Booker’s shortlist has been dominated by literary heavyweights, with works by Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and Elif Shafak all appearing on last year’s list. In 2018, a high profile author group unsuccessfully demanded that the Man Booker Foundation ban American authors from being eligible for the award.

The long list for this year’s award, revealed in July, included Hilary Mantels’ The Mirror and the Light, the conclusion to her acclaimed trilogy on Thomas Cromwell; and Anne Tylers Redhead by the side of the road. But neither of the two books succeeded.

Even though it was good, there were six that were better, said author Lee Child, one of the judges, when asked about Mantels’ omission at the press conference.

Mantel won the Booker Prize for the first two parts of his Cromwell trilogy; in 2009, for Wolf Hall, and in 2012, for Bring Up the Bodies.

Two of the shortlisted books are established authors Maaza Mengistes The Shadow King and Tsitsi Dangarembgas This Mournable Body and both works received accolades. Namwali Serpell, in a New York Times review, called the Mengists’ book on Ethiopian women of the Second Italian-Ethiopian War a lyrical and remarkable new novel.

This dismal body, on a woman struggling to find a job in Zimbabwe, has also been praised. Alexandra Fuller, writing in The New York Times, called it a masterpiece looking at how women try to imagine and come out of a narrative that has already been decided for them.

Dangarembga is perhaps the best-known name on the list due to his political struggles. In July, she was arrested in Zimbabwe for taking part in anti-corruption protests.

The shortlist was chosen from a long list of 13 books. Originally 162 books were submitted for the award. They were read by five judges, including Child and Lemn Sissay, a British poet. The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, Margaret Busby, an editor and chair of the judges, said in a press release.

We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience, she added.

The winning title will be unveiled at a ceremony in London on November 17. Its author will receive 50,000 books, or approximately $ 64,000.

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