This is Atwood’s second win; in 2000 she won for her historical novel The Blind Assassin, and this time around her novel The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, has made her victorious. Meanwhile, this is Evaristo’s first win, for Girl, Woman, Other, which tells 12 separate stories of the lives of different characters (the majority of them black women), as they make their way in the world.
Evaristo is the first black woman ever to have won the prize in its 50 year history.
The fact that she has had to share the award – despite there being rules against splitting the prize between two authors – has been met with controversy, especially considering Atwood’s preexisting fame. Some critics have suggested that having to split the prize money detracts from Evaristo’s achievement.
Despite several attempts to vote for an overall winner, the jury eventually chose to go against the rules; Peter Florence, the chair of judges, described their inability to make a decision as a “metaphor for our times”. The prize has been split twice before: between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton in 1974, and then between Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth in 1992. It was then decided that stringent rules should be put in place to ensure a singular winner each year.
Regardless of the backlash, undoubtedly both of this years winners will go down in history for their services to literature. It remains to be seen whether any changes will be made to next year’s awards based on the reception to this year’s.
For more information on the Prize, click here.
Watch some of the coverage of the event, including interviews with the winners, below: