Books

Booker Prize director is accused of ‘snobbery’ after appearing to mock jobs of Scunthorpe book club

The Booker Prize Foundation has come under fire after its director was accused of appearing to ‘mock’ a dinner lady and a steel worker for being members of a book club.

Gaby Wood was announcing the shortlist for the Booker Prize 2022 at the Serpentine Pavilion in London on Tuesday when she laughed while referring to the occupations of the members of a book club in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

The video was shared on Twitter and has subsequently been deleted, but not before people started accusing Ms Wood of ‘snobbery’ for how she reacted to working-class readers.

Ms Wood told MailOnline she regretted ‘the offense caused by what was intended to be a celebration of the shared joy of reading’.

One working-class author said seeing Ms Wood ‘giggle and pour scorn on the fact that a dinner lady and a steelworker had attended a book club’ was ‘patronising’ and ‘sickening’.

Eve Ainsworth, an award-winning author for children and adults, continued: ‘It might sound like a small thing, but this assumption that working class folk aren’t readers is so damaging.

It’s why public libraries have been allowed to be reduced and replaced. It’s why school libraries fight for funding to exist let alone buy books.

‘My parents were working class and avid readers. My dad was a Shakespeare expert.

‘Unless we begin to break down these dangerous stereotypes in publishing and begin to open up these literary prizes, I really don’t think the industry will be able to move forward.’

Other social media users also spoke of their working-class parents who had inspired them to get into reading.

‘My dad was a bus driver who dropped out of school with no qualifications,’ Cath wrote. ‘But he kicked ass when it came to helping me with Shakespeare coursework. English was my strongest subject, but I pushed me further.’

People took to Twitter to criticize Gaby Wood, Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, for seeming to laugh at the working-class occupations of the members of a book club in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

People took to Twitter to criticize Gaby Wood, Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, for seeming to laugh at the working-class occupations of the members of a book club in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

But some suggested that Ms Wood had just been nervous to be on stage in front of a live audience and had not intended to cause offence.

One Twitter user said: ‘Watched the clip. It’s open to interpretation – the awkward laugh is from the audience. Her delivery is a bit off. Shouldn’t we give the speaker a chance before piling in?’

Others pointed out that the information about the members’ professions must have been provided by the book group itself.

Alison Kershaw, herself a dinner lady, said she was not offended by Ms Wood, who in her eyes was ‘highlighting the diversity of a book club using the information they provided’.

The Scunthorpe Pageturners are one of six book clubs who will each be reading a different book on the 2022 shortlist to compete for places at the Booker Prize winning ceremony in October.

On the Booker Prize website, it says the group ‘comprises a self-described “eclectic” mix of individuals, including a civil servant, a steel worker, a shop worker, a dinner lady and two retirees’.

Other social media users called on people to give Ms Wood 'a chance', and pointed out that the information about the members' professions must have been provided by the book group itself

Other social media users called on people to give Ms Wood ‘a chance’, and pointed out that the information about the members’ professions must have been provided by the book group itself

The description continues: ‘Between them, they have survived four changes of venue and the pandemic, to which they adapted by moving online.

‘They pride themselves on a wide range of reading tastes, and regularly dive into literary fiction, crime and sci-fi. They aim to help fellow readers discover new authors and broaden their horizons.’

Ms Wood explained in a statement to MailOnline: ‘The book clubs participating in a new Booker Prize initiative were being congratulated in their presence.

‘Reference was made to the locations and professions of those taking part, to give a flavor of the groups.

‘We regret the offense caused by what was intended to be a celebration of the shared joy of reading.’

Gaby Wood (pictured) is the director of the Booker Prize Foundation, a charity which among other things awards the annual Booker Prize

Gaby Wood (pictured) is the director of the Booker Prize Foundation, a charity which among other things awards the annual Booker Prize

The Booker Prize is a literary prize awarded each year for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

When the shortlist was announced on Tuesday it was revealed that just one British writer will be vying for the £50,000 prize this year.

Alan Garner, who turns 88 on the day of the ceremony on October 17, is the oldest writer ever shortlisted for his novel Treacle Walker.

He is up against Americans Percival Everett and Elizabeth Strout, Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, Shehan Karunatilaka of Sri Lanka and Claire Keegan from Ireland.

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