A year of controversies: Four contentious instances of the literary world

From authors that were awarded for their writing, to books that were criticised for their stories, the year 2019 has been quite controversial in the literary world. Prestigious literary awards were scrutinised, authors were condemned for their writing and books were criticised for their titles...

Controversy: Man Booker Prize award criticised for being shared

Books: The Testaments & Girl, Woman, Other

Authors: Margaret Atwood & Bernardine Evaristo

This year’s Man Booker Prize award was shared between two female authors - Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. The former is a follow-up to Atwood’s iconic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, while the latter is told from the perspective of 12 different characters, many of whom are black British women. This decision by the committee was considered controversial, with many criticising the fact that Evaristo, the first black woman to receive the Booker, had to share the honour. According to the rules of this award, the prize “may not be divided or withheld.” Critics suggest that the decision to award the Booker to two authors detracts from the historic nature of Evaristo’s win.

Controversy: Blood Heir attacked for depiction of slavery

Books: Blood Heir

Author: Amélie Wen Zhao

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Author Amélie Wen Zhao faced gruesome backlash for the depiction of race and slavery in her young adult fiction Blood Heir. While it received some positive early reviews, several readers on Goodreads and Twitter called the author out for her ‘anti-blackness and blatant bigotry’ as described by a particular reader on Goodreads. The book was slated for a June release, however reacting to the negative feedback, Zhao requested her publishers, Delacorte Press, not to release the book “at this time”. Finally, in November 2019 the book hit the shelves.

Controversy: Kosoko Jackson’s Place of Wolves withdrawn

Books: Place of Wolves

Author: Kosoko Jackson

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Another young adult fiction that landed itself up in a controversy was Kosoko Jackson’s Place of Wolves. The book is a historical thriller that follows the story of a gay African American teenager falling in love set against the backdrop of the Kosovo War.

It drew criticism for its depiction of an Albanian Muslim character as a terrorist, and for centring a romance between two Americans against a real and recent conflict. Amidst such heavy criticism, Jackson released a statement on his Twitter asking the publishers, Sourcebooks, to withdraw the book from publication.

Controversy: The Art of Tying a Pug withdrawn over backlash on title

Books: The Art of Tying a Pug

Author: Natasha Sharma

Publisher: Karadi Tales

A children’s book The Art of Tying a Pug authored by Natasha Sharma was withdrawn after it received adverse reactions to the wordplay used in the title. The publisher Karadi Tales was threatened with legal notices for a pun on the word “pug” – a breed of dog – to describe the turban, or pugdi, worn by Sikhs.

Both the author and the publishing house received legal notices in which the petitioners called the book blasphemous, insulting and hurtful. Soon after, the book was withdrawn from the shelves and de-listed on Amazon as well.