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The Global South, Migration, Empire and Diaspora: A Panel Discussion by the Man Booker International Judges

Judges for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize

The Man Booker International Prize judges took part in a panel discussion at the University of Cape Town recently, exploring the concept of the Global South, and the role of the prize in shaping and responding to world literature.

The judging panel, which comprised Marina Warner, Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank and Wen-Chin Ouyang, announced the Man Booker International Prize finalists at UCT earlier in the week.

The finalists for the 2015 prize are: César Aira (Argentina), Hoda Barakat (Lebanon), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe), Mia Couto (Mozambique), Amitav Ghosh (India), Fanny Howe (United States of America), Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya), László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo) and Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa).

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A River Called TimeThe Shadow LinesSecond ChildhoodThe Seven Veils of SethSeiobo There BelowAfrican Psycho

In his introduction to the discussion, UCT vice chancellor Max Price referred to a quote by Ben Okri: “When you can imagine you begin to create and when you begin to create you realise that you can create a world that you prefer to live in, rather than a world that you’re suffering in.” Price said that the importance of symbols, words and icons was brought to the fore by the Rhodes statue protests at UCT. The protests and the literary prize discussions, he said, both emphasised that a better future belongs to those who are brave enough to imagine it.

Price said UCT was pleased to be associated with the Man Booker Prize, and did its best to ensure that having the judges in South Africa “touched as many lives as possible”.

South African writer Boehmer began the conversation by sharing her understanding of the Global South, which she considers “a bit of an oxymoron” and a term that has become even more ambiguous in recent years. She suggested that literature has an important part to play in changing the world for the better, and said that her week in Cape Town had been a wonderful experience for reaffirming her faith in the written word.

Building on Boehmer’s mention of the ambiguity of the Global South, Aslam pointed out that North and South flow into each other, as do East and West. He said he is less interested in geographical distinctions than he is in continuities of power and patterns of corruption. For this reason, Aslam says he looks for literature that attempts to represent the way things are rather than they way they appear.

Ouyang said that her companions’ wonderful points often makes her feel as if there is nothing more worth saying, but disproved her own supposition with a fascinating discussion of the role of translation in world literature. The Man Booker International Prize, she says, celebrates multiplicity in language, culture and geography.

Frank unpacked the concept of world literature, positing that world literature is often criticised for treating all cultures as exotic, in a way that ironically creates a flattening out of diversity. He believes that world literature works the same way as a newspaper: it is a medium that can give you a real sense of the state of things on the other side of the world.

Warner rounded up the discussion by explaining what the panel looked for in potential prize winners. She pointed out the importance of sensibilities of migration, empire and diaspora in both the judging panel and the shortlist, and said that books that give pleasure and renewed understanding were sought by the judging panel, in the hope of “redress by words and for the act of using words”.


Erin Devenish (@ErinDevenish811) live tweeted from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:



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The finalists for the Man Booker International Prize were announced in Cape Town on 24 March by judges Marina Warner…

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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