The shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize 2019 is out and this year, the six finalists include five women. All six books were translated, too, by women. The annual award is given to the best book which has an English translation and is published in Britain or Ireland.
It seems that four decades and a half later, the Man Booker International prize, for starters, has registered the sentiment behind American poet Adrienne Rich’s past protestations. In 1974, Rich had refused to accept the National Book Award for poetry, which she won for her collection, Diving Into the Wreck. Rich read out a statement instead, which, she said, was “prepared by three of the women nominated for the National Book Award for poetry, with the agreement that it would be read by whichever of us, if any, was chosen.” The other two nominees were Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. Rich went on to “accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world”. In 1991, the Booker Prize shortlist included no women at all. The same year, a bunch of like-minded individuals recognised this serious gender disparity and set up the annual Women’s Prize for Fiction. For years, literary spaces have seen a constant pushback against sexism that nudges women onto the fringes of mainstream literary hierarchy.
The shortlist makes another important departure from convention. It features French author Annie Ernaux’s The Years, an autobiography. The norm has been to cleave autobiography from “fiction”. Ernaux’s inclusion then, is a nod to the fluidity of creative works. If the idea is to chip away at convention and rigid literary structures, the Man Booker International prize has done well. However, other institutions must ensure that this “trend” sustains long enough to become the new normal.