Margaret and Bernardine share Booker prize 2019

London: The judges of this year’s Booker prize have “explicitly flouted” the rules of the august literary award to choose the first joint winners in almost 30 years: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo.

The chair of judges, Peter Florence, emerged after more than five hours with the jury to reveal that the group of five had been unable to pick a single winner from their shortlist of six. Instead, despite being told repeatedly by the prize’s literary director, Gaby Wood, that they were not allowed to split the £50,000 award, they chose two novels: Atwood’s The Testaments, a follow-up to her dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale, and Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, which is told in the voices of 12 different characters, mostly black women.

Evaristo’s win makes her the first black woman to win the Booker since it began in 1969 and the first black British author. At 79, Atwood becomes the prize’s oldest winner. The Canadian author previously won the Booker in 2000 for The Blind Assassin; she becomes the fourth author to have won the prize twice.

Atwood said after the ceremony at London’s Guildhall: “It would have been quite embarrassing for a person of my age and stage to have won the whole thing and thereby hinder a person in an earlier stage of their career from going through that door. I really would have been embarrassed, trust me on that.”

Evaristo said: “I’m just so delighted to have won the prize. Yes, I am sharing it with an amazing writer. But I am not thinking about sharing it, I am thinking about the fact that I am here and that’s an incredible thing considering what the prize has meant to me and my literary life, and the fact that it felt so unattainable for decades.”At a press conference, Evaristo was asked if she would have preferred to win the full £50,000. She said: “What do you think? Yes but I’m happy to share it.”

Evaristo said she would put it towards her mortgage; Atwood said she was “too old” and had “too many handbags” to spend it on herself.

Third pair: The Booker prize has been split twice before: in 1974, by Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton, and in 1992, by Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth. After 1992, the rules were changed to insist that the prize “may not be divided or withheld”.