The Booker Prize Foundation has come under fire after its director was accused of “mocking” a diner lady and a steel worker for being a member of a book club.
Gaby Wood announced the shortlist for the Booker Prize 2022 on Tuesday at London’s Serpentine Pavilion when she laughed as she referred to the activities of the members of a book club in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.
The video was shared on Twitter and subsequently removed, but not before people started accusing Ms Wood of “snobbery” over her reaction to working-class readers.
Ms Wood told MailOnline she regretted “the offense caused by what was intended as a celebration of the shared joy of reading”.
A working-class writer said it was “patronising” and “sickening” to see Mrs Wood “giggle and scorn at the fact that a diner lady and a steelworker had attended a book club”.
Eve Ainsworth, an award-winning author for children and adults, continues: ‘It may sound like a small thing, but this assumption that working class are not readers is so damaging.
Therefore, shrinking and replacing public libraries is allowed. That’s why school libraries are vying for funding, let alone buying books.
My parents were workers and avid readers. My father was a Shakespearean expert.
“Unless we start breaking these dangerous stereotypes in publishing and opening up these literary awards, I really don’t think the industry will be able to move forward.”
Other social media users also spoke of their working-class parents inspiring them to read.
“My father was a bus driver who left school without a degree,” Cath wrote. “But he kicked me when it came to helping me with Shakespeare courses. English was my strongest subject, but it pushed me further.’
People took to Twitter to criticize Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, for appearing to laugh at the working-class occupations of the members of a book club in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.
But some suggested that Mrs. Wood had simply been nervous about being on stage in front of a live audience and had no intention of taking offense.
One Twitter user said: ‘Watched the clip. It’s open to interpretation – the awkward laugh belongs to the audience. Her delivery is a bit off. Shouldn’t we give the speaker a chance before we get started?’
Others pointed out that the information about the professions of the members must have been provided by the book group itself.
Alison Kershaw, herself a diner lady, said she was not offended by Ms Wood, who in her eyes “emphasized the diversity of a book club using the information they provided.”
The Scunthorpe Pageturners are one of six book clubs that will each read a different book on the 2022 shortlist to compete for places at the Booker Prize-winning ceremony in October.
The Booker Prize’s website states that the group includes “a self-proclaimed ‘eclectic’ mix of individuals, including a civil servant, a steel worker, a shop assistant, a diner lady and two retirees.”
Other social media users urged people to give Ms Wood “a chance”, pointing out that the information about the members’ professions must have been provided by the book group itself
The description continues: ‘Between them, they survived four changes of location and the pandemic, to which they have adapted by moving online.
They pride themselves on a wide range of reading tastes and regularly delve into literary fiction, crime and sci-fi. They want 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 congratulated in their presence.
‘Reference has been made to the locations and occupations of the participants, to give an impression of the groups.
“We regret the offense caused by what was intended as a celebration of shared reading pleasure.”
Gaby Wood (pictured) is the director of the Booker Prize Foundation, a charity that awards, among other things, 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 only one British writer will compete for the £50,000 prize this year.
Alan Garner, who will turn 88 on the day of the ceremony on October 17, is the oldest writer ever shortlisted for his novel Treacle Walker.
He will compete against Americans Percival Everett and Elizabeth Strout, Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, Shehan Karunatilaka from Sri Lanka and Claire Keegan from Ireland.