The long list for the Man Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary award in Britain, contains a single African writer this year: 32-year-old NoViolet Bulawayo.
Her debut novel We Need New Names was one of 13 books selected from an original 151 by the prize’s judges. The author is still trying to take in the news. As she told Books Live: “We Need New Names is only my first novel, so this is such a huge deal, downright humbling stuff that I wasn’t expecting hence my shock when I first heard the news – I didn’t even know my book had been entered.
“I’m still a little dizzy from it, but I’ve been processing the news and it has sunk in.
“I’m also especially pleased by the support from the Zimbabwean community and I’m glad it feels like a national event, which is what books should be.
“Looking ahead, I’m crossing my fingers of course, but just being long listed is already such an honour.”
Bulawayo’s novel is set in Zimbabwe and the US. It’s told through the voice of 10-year-old Darling, who must find ways to survive in a shanty town in Bulawayo before she has a chance to escape and move to America to live with her aunt.
NoViolet Bulawayo is a pen name: the author’s real name is Elizabeth Tshele. She chose to write as “NoViolet” as a tribute to her mother, Violet, who died when she was only 18 months old.
Like her character Darling, Bulawayo has since left the country of her birth. She has had an impressive academic career, including earning a Master’s degree in writing from Cornell University, New York, US, where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She is now a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University in California, US.
Prior to the publication of her novel, Bulawayo received plenty of acclaim for her work. In 2011, she won the prestigious Caine Prize (known informally as the “African Booker”) for her short story, Hitting Budapest, which she later fleshed out to create We Need New Names.
Bulawayo is one of three first-time novelists on the Man Booker longlist. The debutants are in fine company, with other acclaimed writers including Colm Tóibín and Alison MacLeod. The list is the most diverse in the prize’s history: Seven different countries are represented. Its novels “range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1 000 and from Shanghai to Hendon,” the chair of the judges, Robert MacFarlane said.
The Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced on September 10 and the winner on October 15. – Books Live