US author George Saunders wins 2017 Man Booker Prize

George Saunders poses after winning the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2017 in London. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2017
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US author George Saunders wins 2017 Man Booker Prize

LONDON: US author George Saunders on Tuesday became only the second American writer to win Britain’s renowned Man Booker Prize, which was awarded for his first full-length novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
Judges for the world’s most prestigious English-language literary award praised as “utterly original” the book that chronicles the death of Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie using the accounts of hundreds of narrators.
“The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative,” said Lola Young, chair of the judging panel, in announcing the prize at a ceremony in London.
Saunders, 58, described the award as a “great honor, which I hope to live up to with the rest of my work, for the rest of my life.”
In a brief, politically tinged acceptance speech, he made several thinly veiled references to the controversial policies of US President Donald Trump.
“We live in a strange time,” he told the audience. “In the US now we’re hearing a lot about the need to protect culture. Well, this tonight is culture.”
He later told reporters he was in disbelief and numb at the award.
“For an artist, I think validation is really helpful,” he added.
“My opinion of myself improves a little bit.”
The winner of the Man Booker receives £52,500 ($69,300), although the bigger prize is seen as a spike in sales which invariably follow the announcement of the winner.
This year’s shortlist stoked controversy over its big name omissions and eclectic line up, with one British columnist calling it “baffling” and a leading US critic decrying its “Americanization.”
It pitted three nominees from the US against two British writers and a British-Pakistani author.
The award, launched in 1969, was only open to novelists from Commonwealth states until it began permitting those from other English-speaking countries in 2014.
Last year Paul Beatty became the first American to win for his novel, “The Sellout.”
Saunders was the British bookmakers’ favorite ahead of the 2017 announcement on Tuesday.
He wrote “Lincoln in the Bardo” over a four-year period, after first conceptualising it 20 years ago, the author told a press conference following the ceremony.


Morocco’s women surfers ride out waves and harassment

Updated 23 May 2018
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Morocco’s women surfers ride out waves and harassment

RABAT: Moroccan women surfers have become a common sight as they skim the waves off the coast of the capital, Rabat, but they still can face prejudice and harassment back on land.
“It’s easier in the winter because the beaches are empty,” said surfer Meriem, 29, who, like most of the women surfers, wears a wetsuit.
“In the summer we suffer a lot of harassment, that’s why we pay attention to what we wear.”
The engineer, who took up the sport four years ago, said she’s lucky to have grown up in a “tolerant” family.
For many Moroccan women from conservative backgrounds, such activities are off limits.
“Some families are ashamed that their daughters practice water sports,” said Jalal Medkouri, who runs the Rabat Surf Club on the capital’s popular Udayas beach.
The gentle waves nearby are ideal for beginners, but nestled at the foot of the 12th century Kasbah and easily visible from the capital’s bustling touristic heart, the beach is far from discreet.
Yet some club members say attitudes are changing.
Rim Bechar, 28, said that when she began surfing four years ago, “it was a bit more difficult.”
“At first, my father accompanied me whenever I wanted to surf,” she said. But now, “people are used to seeing young women in the water, it’s no longer a problem.”
Today, she surfs alone, stays all day and goes home without problems, she said.
Surfers first took to the waves off Morocco’s Atlantic Coast in the 1960s, at the popular seaside resort of Mehdia, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital.
Residents say soldiers at a nearby French-American military base were the first to practice the sport there.
A handful of enthusiasts, French and Moroccan, quickly nurtured the scene, traveling further south to the lesser-known beaches of Safi and Taghazout, which later gained popularity with surfers from around the world.
The sport gradually gained Moroccan enthusiasts, including women. In September 2016, the country held its first international women’s surfing contest.
But mentalities differ from beach to beach.
Despite efforts to improve the status of women in the North African country, attitudes have been slow to change.
A United Nations study in 2017 found that nearly 72 percent of men and 78 percent of women think “women who dress provocatively deserve to be harassed.”
The harassment women surfers can face in Morocco ranges from looks and comments to unwanted attempts at flirtation and attention from men.
In Mehdia, however, surf instructor Mounir said it’s “no problem” for girls to surf.
Last summer “we even saw girls in bikinis on the beach and the authorities didn’t say anything,” he said.
Back at Udayas beach, popular with young men playing football, attitudes are more conservative.
“Girls are often harassed by the boys,” Bechar said.
“At first it wasn’t easy, so I decided to join a club.”
The Rabat Surf Club now has more than 40 surfers, half of whom are girls, Medkouri said.
“Parents encourage their children when they feel they are in good hands,” he said.
Club surfing is particularly popular among girls because the group setting cuts harassment and eases the concerns of some families.
Ikram, who also surfs there, said she hopes “all girls who were prevented by their father or brother from doing what they want will follow this path.”
“Surfing makes you dynamic,” she said.