Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize for The Promise.
The novel, published in April Europa Editions, is set near Pretoria, South Africa and tells the story of three siblings who lose touch after the death of their matriarch. Over the next three decades, they are once again united by three additional funerals, and along the way, they reflect on the resentments and hopes of their home country as the former apartheid state develops.
“It took a long time to get here, and now that I’ve done it, I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be here,” Galgut, formerly shortlisted for the UK award, said in his acceptance speech. “It could just as easily have gone to any of the other amazingly talented people on this list, as well as a few others who aren’t.
“But since I was lucky, let me say that it was a great year for African literature,” continued the South African writer. British Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurna won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.
“I would like to embrace this on behalf of all the stories told and unspoken that writers have heard and not heard on the wonderful continent of which I am a part,” he said. “Please keep listening to us. There is still a lot to come. “
The ceremony was broadcast live and virtually Wednesday night from the BBC’s Radio Theater in London, with only the finalists and other special guests in attendance.
This year’s winner was chosen by historian and jury chairman Maya Yasanoff; writer and editor Horace Harrod; actor Natasha McElhone; Booker twice shortlisted writer and professor Chigozi Obioma; writer and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
The ceremony included a taped conversation between Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Scottish writer Douglas Stewart, last year’s Booker Prize winner for his debut novel, The Suggie Bane, about the life of a kind, lonely boy growing up in a government apartment building in the 1980s Glasgow. During the live broadcast, BBC writer and TV presenter Samira Ahmed interviewed Stewart, asking what it was like to receive the top award for her debut novel during the pandemic that thwarted her world tour.
“It’s very, very unrealistic,” Stewart said. “In solidarity with COP26 [the U.N. Climate Change Conference] It happens in my hometown and I have to be Booker’s greenest winner because all the travels I have done have been on my gray couch. And so I was everywhere, but at the same time I was nowhere. “
Also during the ceremony was interviewed by Nigerian poet and writer Ben Okri, winner of the 1991 Booker Prize for The Hungry Road.
Okri said that in the 30 years since he won, the prizes “have become more inclusive … more open to a variety of experimentation, to voices from around the world. More people of color, more women. They are more open to gender opportunities … sexuality. He became richer, became bolder. ”
The Booker Prize is the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary award. Once restricted to novelists living in the British Commonwealth, since 2013 it has been open to any novel written in English and published in the UK.
Previous winners include Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo, William Golding, Iris Murdoch, Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel.
Below is a complete list of the 2021 Booker Prize shortlists: