Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King makes Booker Prize shortlist

17 Sep 2020

On 15th September, Ethio-American author, Maaza Mengiste was one of the six authors shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction.

Set during Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, the novel explores female power and casts light on the women soldiers written out of African and European history.

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, the recently orphaned Hirut longs to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Ethiopia loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale, and soon inspires other women to take up arms.

In January this year, the Embassy hosted the UK launch of the novel where Maaza said it took her ten years to research and write the novel, and in the process, she ended up learning Italian.

When asked why she focused on women she said that that wasn’t her plan, initially. Her research changed everything when she started finding hints and old photographs of Ethiopian women who had been enlisted into the army.

Speaking exclusively to the Embassy, Maaza said: “I am deeply honoured and grateful to find myself on the shortlist for the Booker Prize. It is an indescribable feeling to realise that a work you have done in solitude over many years is being recognised like this.”

“This story of Ethiopia’s women and their contributions in war is a reminder of the many women across Africa who have made a difference in world history. I am proud to be their daughter, their sister.”

Born in Addis Ababa, Maaza is a Fulbright Scholar and professor in the MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation programme at Queens College, she is also the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, which was named one of the Guardian’s Ten Best Contemporary African Books.

The shortlist of six books was selected from 162 submitted books and was selected by a panel of five judges, including Ethio-British writer and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay.

The 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction, the UK’s most prestigious literary award, is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the UK or Ireland between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday 17th November in an event broadcast from London’s Roundhouse in collaboration with BBC Arts and will take part in the BBC’s first digital event in partnership with Southbank Centre on Saturday 21st November as part of its ‘Inside Out’ series.

The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The winner will receive a further £50,000 and can expect instant international recognition.

Good luck Maaza!

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