Probably the most important literary award in the world
The Man Booker Prize fosters the finest in fiction by rewarding, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year. The prize is arguably the world’s leading literary award and it can influence the fortunes of authors and publishers alike.
The history of the Prize now spans more than forty years since its launch by Booker McConnell Ltd in 1968. At this time, it was an extremely diverse firm with interests ranging from managing Britain’s largest cash-and-carry chain through to owning the rights of Ian Fleming’s back catalogue. Thanks to this firm’s vision, P H Newby’s novel, Something to Answer For, won the first Booker Prize for Fiction on 22 April 1969.
In 1971, there was a major change to the rules, which affected a book’s entry eligibility. The Booker changed from being an award for novels published in the previous year to become a prize for the best novel published in the same year as the award. At the same time, presentation of the award moved from April to November. These changes gave rise to a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 not being eligible for the prize.
This anomaly led to the creation of the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010, a one-off award to honour the books that didn’t get the chance to win in 1970.
In 1992, two books (The English Patient and Sacred Hunger) shared the prize. This resulted in a rule change the following year and the judges must now pick a single winner to comply with the principle that the award is for ‘the best novel of the year’. (There had only ever been one other split award. This was in 1974 when Holiday and The Conservationist shared the prize.)
The next big change came in 2002 with the creation of the Booker Prize Foundation. This was set up to administer and run the awarding of the annual Prize. The Foundation is an independent registered charity funded by the entire profits of Booker Prize Trading Limited, of which it is the sole shareholder.
Also in 2002, the Man group, an investment firm, became the award’s title sponsor. They chose to keep Booker as part of the award’s name, which led to the birth of the Man Booker Prize. Thanks to Man’s sponsorship, the winner’s cheque grew from £21k in 2001 to £50k in the next and subsequent years. This level of prize money makes the Booker one of the world’s richest literary awards.
More recently, judge Chris Mullins’ remark in 2011 that the panel was looking for books that “zip along” added fuel to the fire. This comment created a great deal of media interest in what seemed to be a leaning towards ‘readability’ rather than literary merit.
The selection of judges starts with the Booker Prize Foundation appointing the Foundation Advisory Committee. To maintain consistency, the Committee will consider candidates from a wide range of disciplines before making their final selection. This is why past judging panels have included critics, writers and academics as well as poets, politicians and actors. Despite this diversity, the judges all share one trait; they will all have a passion for quality fiction.
The judging panel is five persons in total, led by a chair of judges. Appointments to the panel usually take place by late October or the early November of the year before the prize year. This is so judges can start wading through the 130 or so books they will all need to read.
The judges will meet as often as needed to achieve the Prize timetable. The first deadline being the announcement of the ‘Booker Dozen’, a longlist of 12 or 13 books, in late July or early August. A shortlist of six books follows in September and the announcement of the winner is in October at the award ceremony.
The Prize is open to any full-length novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe, who must be alive at the time of the award.
The book must be a unified and substantial work, written in English (not a translation from another language) and must not be self-published. Also, the publication date for its first UK print edition must fall between 01 October of the year before the prize year and 30 September of the prize year. (While a novel’s first UK publication must fall within these dates, books published before this in other countries are still eligible if written in English.)
The selection path for the Prize starts with UK publishers entering a maximum of two novels that fit the entry criteria. In addition to the two books, they may also submit any title by an author who has previously won, or been shortlisted for, the Booker or Man Booker Prize if the book is eligible for entry.
Each publisher may also submit, by April of the prize year, a list of up to five further titles. A written rationale of up to 250 words (signed by the author’s editor) must support these novels. The judges will call in no fewer than eight and no more than twelve of these works.
The judges, by the July of the prize year, are also free to call in any books they think are worthy of consideration as long as these meet the entry criteria.
In keeping with advances in technology, judges will consider e-books from the established imprint of any publisher. If an online book is shortlisted, the publisher must print hard copies of the book and have them on sale within ten days of the shortlist announcement.
Publishers must also undertake to have e-books available of any shortlisted novel within two weeks of the shortlist announcement. Extracts from the e-books must be freely accessible as downloads.
Here are some stats for authors who managed to meet the entry criteria. Only three authors have won the prize twice: J M Coetzee (1983 and 1999), Peter Carey (1988 and 2001) and Hilary Mantel (2009 and 2012). Coetzee is one of four winners to go on to be awarded a Nobel Prize, the others being V S Naipaul, William Golding and Nadine Gordimer.
By winning the 2012 competition, Hilary Mantel became the first woman and the first British writer to win the prize twice. Her 2012 winner, Bring up the Bodies, is also the first sequel to win the prize in its 43-year history.
The late Beryl Bainbridge gained notoriety as the eternal ‘Booker Bridesmaid’, shortlisted no less than five times (1973, 74, 90, 96 and 98) without winning. Dame Iris Murdoch went one better; she made the shortlist in 1969, 70, 73, 78, 85, and 87. Fortunately, her 1978 listing led to her winning the Prize that year for her novel The Sea, the Sea.
Debut authors have won the Prize four times to mixed effect. Neither Keri Hulme (1985) nor Arundhati Roy (1997) has written fiction since their wins. While the victories for D B C Pierre (2003) and Aravind Adiga (2008) left many pundits suggesting that sensationalism and novelty, rather than the literary skills of more seasoned writers, had swayed the judges.
Perhaps a more astonishing fact, that’s tied-up with numbers, is that the Prize is the only long-running literary award in the UK where every winning novel is still in print.
Launched in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize is notably different from the Man Booker Prize in that it highlights one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. In reality, this means the judges consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel. This is just one of the reasons the prize has already established itself as a major player in the literary world.
The prize, awarded bi-annually, is worth £60,000 to a living author who has published fiction originally in English or whose work is, in the main, available as an English translation. Unlike the Man Booker Prize, an author can only win this award once.
In addition to the main prize, there is a separate award for translation. If applicable, the winner may choose a translator of his or her work into English who will receive a £15,000 prize.
There is no need for publishers to submit books for consideration as the judging panel has complete discretion in terms of choosing the winner.
The International Prize is similar to its older sibling in that it seems to attract a certain amount of controversy. Take 2011 as an example…
One of the three judges, Carmen Callil, founder of Virago, withdrew from the panel in protest at the other two judges’ majority decision. She said of winner Roth’s on going focus on male sexuality, “He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”
In a change to the format for the 2013 Prize, there will be five judges, rather than three, on the panel. This will enable the judges to consider the work of many more writers than in previous years.
The announcement confirming the appointment of the scholar and literary critic Sir Christopher Ricks as chair of the 2013 panel came on 02 December 2011. Confirmed at the same time, his fellow judges are author and essayist Elif Batuman, writer and broadcaster Aminatta Forna, novelist Yiyun Li and author and academic Tim Parks.
The panel will announce the list of eight writers under serious consideration for the prize at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday, 24 January 2013. The eventual winner will receive his or her prize at an award ceremony in the July of the same year.
The past winners of this premier internationally award are:
- 2011 – Philip Roth (American)
- 2009 – Alice Munro (Canadian)
- 2007 – Chinua Achebe (Nigerian)
- 2005 – Ismail Kadare (Albanian)
The late, much-loved novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge was shortlisted five times for the Booker Prize, but never actually won. This led to the press dubbing her the ‘Booker Bridesmaid’, a phrase which stuck in spite of her many other literary accolades. So, to honour her as a writer, the Booker Prize Foundation created a special prize in 2011, The Man Booker Best of Beryl.
There were no judges as such for this prize. Instead, the public voted on which of her five shortlisted novels they thought should win this special tribute prize.
Public voting opened on 08 February 2011. Anyone who wanted to cast a vote for his or her favourite shortlisted novels could do so on the Man Booker Prize website.
There were more than a 1,000 votes cast and Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Foundation, pronounced Master Georgie the winner on Tuesday 19 April. Fittingly, the announcement came at a party to celebrate the author's life.
Beryl’s daughter Jojo Davies and grandson Charlie Russell accepted the prize (a one-off, designer- bound copy of the book) on behalf of the family.
In 1971, a rule change resulted in a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 not being eligible for the Prize. This anomaly led to the creation in 2010 of the Lost Man Booker Prize; a one-off award to honour the books that didn’t get the chance to win in 1970.
On the 01 Feb 2010, the Booker Prize Foundation announced that poet and novelist Tobias Hill, television newsreader, Katie Derham and the journalist and critic, Rachel Cooke would judge the first stage of this special prize. Their task was to select a shortlist of six novels, from a longlist of twenty- one first published in 1970 that were still in print.
(Confusingly, some sources will give figures of 20, 21 or even 22 books for the longlist. The original longlist did have 22 titles but two were ineligible, their first UK print editions being before and after 1970. One extra book did fulfil the year criterion though, which made a final longlist of 21 books.)
Once the judges announced their shortlist on 25th March, public voting opened for the award. Anyone wanting to cast a vote for his or her favourite novel from the shortlist could do so on the Man Booker Prize website. Voting closed on the 23rd April.
On the 19th May, the late J G Farrell won the Lost Man Booker Prize with 38% of the vote for his novel Troubles. His family accepted a designer-bound copy of the novel on his behalf.
In 2008, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children won the Best of the Booker, a one-off celebratory award to mark the 40th anniversary of the Prize. Midnight’s Children originally won the Booker Prize in 1981.
On the 21 February 2008, the Booker Prize Foundation announced that the biographer, novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning (Chair), writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, Prof. of English at UCL, would judge the first stage of this special prize. Each appointee had previously been a judge of the Booker or Man Booker Prize. Their task was to choose a shortlist of six novels from the forty-one previous Booker Prize and Man Booker Prize winners.
(Forty-one authors won the prize between 1969 and 2007. This is due to two winners sharing the prize in 1974 and 1992. From 1993, the rules changed so there could only be one winner.)
Once the judges announced their shortlist on the 12th May, public voting opened to decide the winner. Anyone wanting to cast a vote for his or her favourite novel from the shortlist could do so on the Man Booker Prize website or by text message. Voting closed on 08th July with 7,801 people having voted. (Midnight’s Children polled 36% of the vote.)
The award presentation ceremony took place at the Southbank Centre on the 10th July as part of the London Literature Festival. Regrettably, Salman Rushdie couldn’t attend the event as he was on tour in America at the time. However, he did send his thanks via a pre-recorded message and his sons, Zafar and Milan, accepted the custom-made trophy on his behalf.
In 1993, the Prize administrators decided to mark the 25th anniversary of the award with the Booker of Bookers Prize. Three past judges of the award, Malcolm Bradbury, David Holloway and W L Webb, met to choose a winner from the 26 previous winners of the Booker. They chose Salman Rushdie’s Midnight's Children (the 1981 winner) as ‘the best novel out of all the winners.’
(Twenty-six authors won the prize between 1969 and 1992. This is because to two winners shared the prize in 1974 and 1992. From 1993, the rules changed so there could only be one winner.)
Presenting the award caused some difficulty as Salman Rushdie was still under the threat of a fatwa for his book The Satanic Verses in 1993. Even so, he did manage to get to the award ceremony, held amidst tight security, at Waterstone’s bookstore in Kensington on the evening of 20th September. For all his efforts in getting to the venue, he had to be satisfied with an unbound brown paper covered copy of Midnight’s Children on the night. This was because his prize of a leather-bound copy wasn’t ready in time!
As a testament to this remarkable book, Midnight's Children also won the 40th anniversary Best of the Booker prize, this time by public vote, in 2008.
Sir Peter Stothart, Editor of the Times Literary Supplement, will chair the 2012 judging panel. Dinah Birch, Professor of English Lit. at the University of Liverpool, historian and author Amanda Foreman, actor and cultural pundit Dan Stevens and academic, writer and reviewer Bharat Tandon join him to select the winner.
The key dates for the 2012 Prize are 25th July – longlist announcement, 11th September – shortlist announcement and 16th October – winner announced at the award ceremony.
There’s also a special evening dedicated to the award at the Southbank Centre in London on Monday 15 October, the eve of the Man Booker Prize 2012 announcement. At this event, all of the shortlisted writers will read from, and discuss, their work. The chair for the evening is James Naughti, from the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
The winner of this year’s Prize will receive a cheque for £50,000. In addition, he or she will also get £2,500 and a designer bound copy of his or her book, as do all the other five shortlisted authors. (An often-overlooked benefit is that the winner and shortlisted authors will usually see a dramatic rise in their worldwide book sales.)
The last three winners of this foremost literary award are:
- 2012 – Hilary Mantel for Bring Up the Bodies
- 2011 – Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending
- 2010 – Howard Jacobson for The Finkler Question
If you want more information, you’ll find the Man Booker Prize website very helpful.