NoViolet Bulawayo’s Political Allegory Glory on Booker Prize Longlist

It is the Zimbabwean’s second novel to be longlisted, after her 2013 debut We Need New Names reached the shortlist.
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NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo. Credit: unknown.

The Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo’s sophomore novel Glory has made it to the 2022 Booker Prize longlist. The novel comes nine years after her 2013 debut novel We Need New Names, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize that same year, making her the first Black African woman and first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted.

The 576-page Glory, inspired by the fall of Robert Mugabe, is set in a fictional country of animals. The story revolves around Old Horse, a once charismatic leader in whom the animals of a once bountiful land found hope in the face of colonisers, who rules for forty years with the help of “his elite band of Chosen Ones” and Marvellous, his ambitious donkey wife, until his shocking fall.

Glory was published by Chatto & Windus in the UK and by Viking in the US.

The judges—Neil MacGregor, Shahidha Bari, Helen Castor, M. John Harrison, and the Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou—described the book as fiction that “becomes almost reality as we picture the parallel between this Animal Farm, Zimbabwe, and the fate of many African nations. An ingenious and brilliant political fable that bears witness to the surreal turns of history.”

Raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (she uses a pen name), NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut We Need New Names, published in 2013, won a Betty Trask Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, the Etisalat Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. The novel’s first chapter, “Hitting Budapest,” had earlier won the AKO Caine Prize, as a short story, in 2011.

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Bulawayo has an MFA from Cornell University, where she was awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship for her work. She was also a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where she taught fiction. She was a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree. She currently lives in California.

Bulawayo is the only African author on the list of 13 that includes six Americans: Leila Mottley, Hernan Diaz, Percival Everett, Karen Joy Fowler, Selby Wynn Schwartz, Elizabeth Strout; three Britons: Alan Garner, Maddie Mortimer, Graeme Macrae Burnet; two Irish writers: Claire Keegan, Audrey Magee; and one Sri Lankan: Shehan Karunatilaka.

“Over the last seven months or so, we have read and discussed 169 works of fiction, all written in English, by authors and about subjects from all over the globe,” Neil MacGregor, chair of the judges, said. “169 journeys to worlds conjured and created by the wielding of words alone. The skill with which writers shape and sustain those variously imagined worlds, and allow others to inhabit them, has been our main criterion in proposing this longlist of 13 books. Exceptionally well written and carefully crafted, in whatever genre, they seem to us to exploit and expand what the language can do.  The list that we have selected offers story, fable and parable, fantasy, mystery, meditation and thriller.”

Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said, “The result is a set of books that are sometimes serious but never sombre, whose authors engage you with their wit, even as you absorb their dramatic, painful or provocative subject matter. It’s in this playfulness, of form or tone, that this year’s fiction is at its best.”

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The 2022 Booker Prize shortlist will be unveiled on September 6 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, and the winner will be announced at the Roundhouse, London on October 17.

If Glory makes the shortlist, NoViolet Bulawayo will match a record set by India’s Rohinton Mistry and equaled by Nigeria’s Chigozie Obioma, currently the only two writers to have their first two novels be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Uzoma Ihejirika
Uzoma Ihejirika is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a staff writer at Folio Nigeria. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming on Lolwe, Music in Africa, and Bakwa Magazine, and can also be found on Medium.

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