Barack Obama is taking a short break from defending the cause of democracy in the US to take part in this year’s Booker prize ceremony next week. The former US president is one of several guests due to appear at the online winner’s ceremony for the literary prize on 19 November.
Earlier this year, the Booker ceremony was moved from 17 November by two days, ostensibly to avoid a clash with the arrival of the first volume of Obama’s new memoirs, A Promised Land, which is set to be one of the biggest books of 2020. Obama will appear alongside former winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, and Bernardine Evaristo. Famously a voracious reader, Obama has continued to share his reading recommendations in the years since he left the White House. In a list of the best books he read last year, he included Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
The Booker winner is usually announced at a dinner at London’s Guildhall, but the coronavirus pandemic means it will be broadcast in partnership with the BBC from London’s Roundhouse. The ceremony will see Obama talking about what reading Booker prize novels has meant to him. The Duchess of Cornwall will also speak about the importance of reading during the pandemic; Ishiguro will be interviewed by Radio 4’s John Wilson on the experience of winning both the Booker and the Nobel prize in literature, and Atwood and Evaristo will share what they have done since they jointly – and controversially – won last year’s Booker. This year’s chair of judges Margaret Busby will then be interviewed by Wilson, before announcing the winner.
Six writers are up for this year’s £50,000 prize: Tsitsi Dangarembga, Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart, and Brandon Taylor. Each of their novels is to be brought to life through a partnership with the Old Vic. Anne-Marie Duff will be reading Cook’s The New Wilderness, Thandie Newton will read Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body, Ayesha Dharker will read Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, Nina Sosanya will read Mengiste’s The Shadow King, Stuart Campbell will take on Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, and Paapa Essiedu will read Taylor’s Real Life.