Nigerian novelists, Chigozie Obioma and Bernadine Evaristo, are on the 2019 shortlist of six novels for the Booker Prize – Obioma with his novel ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’, and Evaristo with her ‘Girl, Woman, Other’.
In 2015, Obioma’s first novel, ‘The Fishermen’, was also shortlisted for the award.
The other novels on this year’s prize shortlist which was announced in London on Tuesday include Quichotte by Salman Rushdie; The Testament by Margaret Atwood; Ducks by Lucy Ellmann; and 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak.
The winner of the prestigious prize will be announced on 14 October at the Guildhall in London.
Obioma, an assistant professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was born in 1986 in Akure, Ondo State, into an Igbo family of 12 children (seven brothers and four sisters).
He has been called, in a New York Times book review, “the heir to Chinua Achebe” and in 2015 named one of “100 Global Thinkers” by the Foreign Policy magazine.
As a child, he was fascinated by Greek myths and the British masters, including Shakespeare, John Milton, and John Bunyan; and among African writers, he developed a strong affinity for Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero; Cyprian Ekwensi’s An African Night’s Entertainment; Camara Laye’s The African Child; and D. O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀.
Obioma›s first novel, The Fishermen, is being translated into 27 languages and has received several awards. In addition to being listed as a 2015 New York Times Sunday Book Review Notable Book and a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice selection, The Fishermen was named a best book of the year for 2015 by The Observer (UK), The Economist, The Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Apple/iBook, Book Riot, the Minnesota Star Tribune, NPR, Library Journal, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the New Zealand Listener, Relevant Magazine, British GQ, and others. The Fishermen was also named of the American Library Association’s five best debuts of spring 2015 a Publisher’s Weekly book of the week, and one of Kirkus Reviews′ “10 Novels to Lose Yourself In.”
Obioma states that in addition to being a tribute to his siblings, the novel aims to “build a portrait of Nigeria at a very seminal moment in its history (the annulled presidential elections of 1993), and by so doing deconstruct and illuminate the ideological potholes that still impede the nation’s progress even today.”
Evaristo, a Nigerian British author, poet, playwright, and academic was born in Eltham, south-east London, and christened Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo.
She is the fourth of eight children born to her white English mother who was a schoolteacher and her Nigerian father, who migrated to Britain in 1949.
She is currently a Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and a vice-chair of the Royal Society of Literature.
Two of her books, The Emperor’s Babe and Hello Mum, have been adapted into BBC Radio 4 dramas.
She has authored eight books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African Diaspora, notably experimenting with form and narrative perspective, often merging the past with the present, fiction with poetry, the factual with the speculative, and reality with alternate realities.
Her most recent novel, Girl, Woman, Other (published in May 2019) is an innovative polyvocal “fusion fiction” about 12 primarily black British women. Their ages span 19 to 93 and they are a mix of cultural backgrounds, sexualities, classes and British geographies, and the novel charts their hope, struggles and intersecting lives.
Her 2014 novel, Mr Loverman, is about a septuagenarian Caribbean Londoner who is a closet homosexual and considering his options after a 50-year marriage to his wife. It won the Publishing Triangle Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction (USA) and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.
Evaristo’s other books include the verse novel Lara (2009), which fictionalised the multiple cultural strands of her family history going back over 150 years as well as her mixed-race London childhood. This won the EMMA Best Novel Award in 1998.
Her novel Blonde Roots (2008) is a satire that inverts the history of the transatlantic slave trade and replaces it with a universe where Africans enslave Europeans. Blonde Roots won the Orange Youth Panel Award and Big Red Read Award.
In 2015, Evaristo wrote and presented a two-part BBC Radio 4 documentary, Fiery Inspiration – on Amiri Baraka and his influence on her generation of writers.