Evaristo 'bittersweet' on Booker win

Joint Booker Prize winners Bernardine Evaristo (R) and Margaret Attwood.
Joint Booker Prize winners Bernardine Evaristo (R) and Margaret Attwood.

Bernardine Evaristo has described being the first black woman to win the Booker Prize as "bittersweet".

The British writer's Girl, Woman, Other shared the award with Margaret Atwood's The Testatments after judges rebelled against the rules, splitting the STG50,000 ($AU92,800) prize for both works.

Chairman Peter Florence said the five judges simply couldn't choose between Atwood's dystopian thriller and Evaristo's kaleidoscope of black women's stories.

Atwood herself said she would have been "embarrassed" to win the award alone at her age.

Evaristo said it was "incredible" that she triumphed as a black woman writing about her black female experience.

She hopes to be a role model for writers of colour currently struggling to succeed.

"It's a bittersweet experience. In one sense it's great to be the first, but I shouldn't be the first" Evaristo said in London on Monday.

"I think this prize has moved with the times. Our culture has moved somewhat in the past few years."

Evaristo said the fact that a book "by a black British woman, writing about black British women" and the fact that she won the prize was "an incredible thing to happen".

"I don't think it would have happened five years ago or 10 years ago," she said.

"I think it's about how the prize is won and who gets to be the judges.

"It just has not gone to black people, hardly at all.

"Hopefully it will inspire people. Hopefully I will be a role model, especially to writers of colour."

Atwood welcomed sharing the glory with Evaristo, saying she would have been embarrassed to win the award while holding out a younger writer.

Judges, headed by Hay Festival founder Florence, broke Booker rules to share the prize between the two women.

The Booker has been split twice before, between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton in 1974, and again between Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth in 1992.

Rules were brought in following the latter decision to prevent future divisions of the prize.

Sir Salman Rushdie was shortlisted this year for his referential work Quichotte, along with Lucy Ellmann for Ducks, Newburyport, Chigozie Obioma for An Orchestra Of Minorities, and Elif Shafak for 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World.

The jury was made up of Florence, Liz Calder, novelist and film-maker Xiaolu Guo, writer and former barrister Afua Hirsch and composer Joanna MacGregor.

Australian Associated Press