London’s International Booker Prize Announces Its 2021 Shortlist

In News by Porter Anderson

Of the six authors shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize, four are published in English for the first time.

Image: Booker Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Hughes-Hallett: ‘So Many Different Modes’
You may notice collisions of news from major publishing and book awards at the moment. It’s one of those times of the year when the winners’ announcements, shortlists, longlists, and jury roll-outs all run into each other like tightly smiling competitive guests at a cocktail party, everyone jostling for your attention.

Today (April 22), we have not only a new story overnight on the Aspen Words Literary Prize’s winner but also the Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s 2021 slate of winners, and from London this afternoon, the International Booker Prize‘s 2021 shortlist.

And in a news conference prior to the 5 p.m. BST release of the shortlist, organizers of the International Booker were particularly outspoken about what fresh, challenging books the jury has read in getting to this point, stressing that the shortlisted authors and translators are working in fiction that stretches expectations in frequently arresting ways.

Books under consideration this year are published in English in translation by UK or Irish publishers between May 1 of last year and April 30.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who chairs the jury, said to the journalists in the news conference, “One thing that becomes clear from reading 125 books is that works of fiction take many, many different forms.”

She spoke of deliberately choosing to call them “books” rather than “novels” because of the range the jury had encountered. “Some came close to being historical writing, and some of them were very essayistic,” she said.

“Some seemed deeply personal, almost like memoirs. And, indeed, there are examples of several different genres among these six” announced today for the shortlist.

The jury, Hughes-Hallett said, concluded that “This is a fantastically vigorous and vital aspect of the way fiction is being written at the moment, that people are really pushing the boundaries while working in so many different modes.”

Hughes-Hallett is joined on the jury by:

  • Journalist and writer, Aida Edemariam
  • (Man) Booker shortlisted novelist Neel Mukherjee
  • History of slavery professor Olivette Otele
  • Poet, translator, and biographer George Szirtes

Four of the six authors shortlisted today are appearing in English for the first time and have won awards in their own languages. Of the publishers behind these books, Pushkin Press is represented twice. While Pan Macmillan is here, independent publishers hold five of the six shortlisted titles, and of those five Lolli Editions is making its International Booker debut appearance.

The translator Megan McDowell is shortlisted by the International Booker for a second time, while all the other authors and translators are on their first round of the program’s recognition.

This year’s shortlist features work translated into English from Danish, French, Spanish, and Russian.

2021 International Booker Prize Shortlist
Title Author Translator Original Language Publisher or Imprint
At Night All Blood Is Black David Diop Anna Mocschovakis French Pushkin Press
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed Mariana Enríquez Megan McDowell Spanish Granta Books
When We Cease To Understand the World Benjamin Labatut Adrian Nathan West Spanish Pushkin Press
The Employees  Olga Ravn Martin Aitken Danish Lolli Editions
In Memory of Memory Maria Stepanova Sasha Dugdale Russian Fitzcarraldo Editions
The War of the Poor Éric Vuillard Mark Polizzotti French Pan Macmillan, Picador

The winner of this year’s International Booker Prize is to be named on June 2, in a digital announcement from Coventry, which has been named the UK City of Culture in the program of the department for digital, culture, media and sport that makes this designation of a municipality every four years.

The US-based Crankstart, a charitable foundation, is the exclusive funder of the Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize.

A reminder here for fans of translated literature of the annual World Book Day presentation of free translated international titles from Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Crossing imprint, available through 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday (April 24).

More from Publishing Perspectives on both Booker Prize programs is here. And more from us on international publishing and book awards programs in general is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.