Booker Prize winner doesn’t think ‘woke cult’ would let a straight, white man win again

John Banville wearing a suit and tie against a green backdrop

John Banville, the 2005 winner of the Booker Prize, launched a bitter attack on the “woke movement” and claimed it is becoming “very difficult” for straight, white male authors to succeed.

Days after gay author Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize with Shuggie Bain, about a queer youth growing up in 1980s Glasgow, Banville suggested it would be “difficult” for him to win the literary award again because of the “woke movement”.

Appearing at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend, Banville was asked if he thought it possible in a time of “woke suspicion about white, straight men” for someone such as himself to win the Booker.

“I would not like to be starting out now, certainly. It’s very difficult,” he replied, according to The Telegraph.

“I despise this ‘woke’ movement. Why were they asleep for so long? The same injustices were going on. It’s become a religious cult.

“You see people kneeling in the street, holding up their fists – that’s not going to do anything for Black people.”

The Booker Prize was historically dominated by straight, white men such as Banville, so much so that the Women’s Prize for Fiction was launched, after delays, in response to the 1991 Booker’s all-male shortlist.

In recent years the prize has become more of a level playing field. This year’s shortlist was the most diverse in its history, with four writers of colour, four women, and no straight men.

Last year’s prize was split (for the first time) between two women: Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo – the first Black women to win the accolade, who “had a period of about 10 years where [she] lived as a lesbian”.

Women have won four of the last 10 Booker Prizes (all white, save for Evaristo), with white men winning four (most recently in 2017) and Black men (including gay author Marlon James) winning two.

When John Banville was declared the winner in 2005, for The Sea, he was criticised for saying in his acceptance speech: “It’s nice to see a work of art winning the Booker Prize.”

The most recent honouree, Douglas Stuart, was rather more humble in his acceptance.

The author, who lives in New York with his husband, said he was “absolutely stunned”. He thanked “the people of Scotland, especially Glaswegians, whose empathy and humour and love and struggle are in every word of this book” as well as his late mother, saying she was “on every page” of Shuggie Bain.

“I’ve been clear without her I wouldn’t be here, my work wouldn’t be here,” he said, according to The Guardian.

The 44-year-old said the £50,000 prize would allow him to become a full time writer, and joked that he would lose most of his winnings settling a bet with his husband that he would not win.