Booker Prize 2019: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share fiction award

This was the first time judges have split the award in almost 30 years

Margaret Atwood poses with Bernardine Evaristo after jointly winning the Booker Prize for Fiction 2019 at the Guildhall in London, Britain October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
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For the first time in almost three decades, judges of the Booker Prize this year flouted the rules to give the prestigious literary award to two writers: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo.

Atwood won it this year for her book The Testaments, a sequel to her well known title The Handmaid's Tale. The Testaments, which was published last month, was favourite to win the award.

It is the second time the Canadian author had won the prize and, at 79, she becomes its oldest winner.

She won in 2000 with The Blind Assassin, and has been shortlisted for four other books: The Handmaid's Tale (1986), Cat's Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996) and Oryx and Crake (2003).

British author Evaristo won the award with Girl, Woman, Other, which tells the stories of 12 characters, mainly female and black and aged 19 to 93, living in Britain.

The winners, who will split the £25,000 (Dh115,940) prize money, were revealed at a ceremony at London’s Guildhall on Monday evening.

“Neither of us expected to win this and I’m very happy that we’ve both got curly hair," Atwood said while accepting the award. "I’m very surprised. I would have been thought that I would have been too elderly.”

Evaristo said: “I will say I’m the first black woman to win this prize and I hope that honour doesn’t last too long. I hope other people come forward now.”

After deliberations that lasted five hours, the judges decided that there was no other way to come to a conclusion but to break precedent and split the award.

“We were told quite firmly that the rules state we can only have one winner," said Peter Florence, chairman of the judges.

"Our consensus was that it was our decision to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners.

"These are two books we started not wanting to give up and the more we talked about them the more we treasured both of them and wanted them both as winners. We couldn’t separate them.

“But the more we talked about it, having two winners seemed the only fair representation of our deliberations, which was why we felt the rules were inadequate to the problem we had been given.

“We tried voting, that didn’t work. There’s a metaphor for our times.”

The last time the prize was split was in 1992, when Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth won the award, but after that, the rules changed meaning that the prize couldn’t be split.

It was also split in 1974, when Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton won the award.

Other nominees for the award were Salman Rushdie, Lucy Ellmann, Chigozie Obioma and Elif Shafak.

Anna Burns won the award last year for her book Milkman, making her the first Northern Irish writer to win the award and the first woman to win since 2013.

The story has since been translated into nearly 40 different languages and is set to be made into a film.