Man Booker International Prize 2018: Jonathan Sorrell’s speech
22 May 2018
Good evening, everyone. In a recent speech, the great Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of the problems of “single stories”. In a world as frantic, complex and diverse as ours, increasingly people feel compelled to simplify in an effort to comprehend. We hear a “single story”, and we convince ourselves that this is the only story. We use what we think we know to fill in the blanks of what we don’t. And yet there is a real danger behind these single stories - as there always is when we view the world around us in a dismissively simplistic fashion, without due consideration to fact and nuance, and without the time to gain true understanding.
It’s the imperative to address this compulsion to simplify – to open ourselves up to a multitude of narratives, rather than a single story - that lies behind the Man Booker International Prize. In the thirteen years that the prize has been in existence, it’s both heartening and humbling to think of the many extraordinary novels that it has helped bring to the attention of audiences world-wide. Exposure to these novels helps to chip away at those single stories by providing the narratives that challenge them, that go against the grain of received opinion, that take us deeper and more convincingly into the lives of others.
This year’s shortlist encompasses a really broad range of themes – we read of young motherhood in Korea; we find ourselves in contemporary Paris among dissolute former rock stars; we follow a series of men at the end of their respective ropes from China to Portugal to Ukraine to India; we go on the run with Martin Luther King’s killer; the Frankenstein tale is reworked against the backdrop of war-torn Iraq; we read a series of fragmentary tales that knit together into a vivid and perceivably horrifying portrait of the way we live now.
We at Man Group understand that to be well-informed investors, we need to be well-informed human beings. Novels remain a vital way of educating ourselves about the world and about our cultures. This is why we are readers, why we have sponsored the Man Booker Prize for nearly two decades, and why we were so keen to help establish the Man Booker International Prize.
Above all, we see the Man Booker International Prize as truly inclusive – as Man Booker states, it is open to all authors published in English in the UK and Ireland, irrespective of where they are from. This is reflective of our own commitment to diversity and inclusion; we welcome and encourage difference across our business, building our own “multitude of narratives”. This year for example, we launched our “Paving the Way” campaign, as we seek further to enhance diversity in the finance and technology industries. We know this makes us a better business and remains a strategic priority for us – to enable us to hire the best people and to make the best decisions to the benefit of all our stakeholders.
Adichie ended her speech about the danger of single stories with this piece of advice. “When we reject the single story,” she said, “when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
I hope you all have a terrific evening and please join me in congratulating tonight’s extraordinary shortlist, and all the authors and translators who are helping, word by word, to overthrow the tyranny of single stories.
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