The Man Booker Prize is one of the foremost literary awards in the world, given each year to the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK. The awarding of the Booker is one of the most significant events in British culture. On October 17, the 49th Booker Prize will be given to this year’s “finest in fiction.” Winners of the award have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes in Literature, inspire generations of readers, and shape the development of the English language.
The prize was originally known as the Booker-McConnell Prize, after the company Booker, McConnell Ltd, which sponsored the event beginning in 1969, the first year the prize was awarded. It is often referred to as the “Booker Prize” or simply “the Booker.” The award became formally known as the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002, when administration of the prize was transferred to the Booker Prize Foundation and the title sponsor became the investment company Man Group. At first, the prize was awarded retrospectively to books published the year before. However, in 1971, the year of eligibility was changed to the same year in which the award was given. Because of this, no prize was awarded to books published in 1970. This problem was eventually resolved, with a Lost Man Booker Prize being awarded in 2010.
Eligibility and the Prize
Historically, the winner had to be a citizen of Great Britain, Ireland, or the Commonwealth of Nations. In 2013, it was announced that works by authors from anywhere in the world would be considered so long as their work was in English and published in the UK. In the award’s early years, the winning author received £21,000 in prize money. This amount was subsequently raised to £50,000 in 2002 after Man Group assumed its role as sponsor, making it one of the world’s largest literary prizes. In 2004, a second award was created–called the Man Booker International Prize–which from 2005 to 2015 was awarded every two years to a living author of any nationality whose body of work had been published in English or was available in English translation. Since 2016, this award has been given annually to a single book. The prize is £50,000, shared equally between the winning author and translator.
The selection process begins with the formation of an advisory committee, which consists of a writer, two publishers, a literary agent, a bookseller, a librarian, and a chairperson who is appointed by the Booker Prize Foundation. The advisory committee then selects the judging panel for that year from a range of literary critics, writers, academics, and leading public figures. The judges nominate 12 books for the longlist, later condensing this to a shortlist of 6 books. Until 2001, the longlist was not publicly revealed. The winner is usually announced at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall in early October.
The winner of the Booker Prize, as well as the shortlisted authors, enjoy a dramatic increase in book sales, in addition to the international recognition and prestige that comes with the award. As the novel has long been the dominant form of popular fiction, Alice Munro‘s 1980 work The Beggar Maid is the only short story collection to be shortlisted, with none ever having won the prize. Between 2005 and 2008, the Booker Prize alternated between writers from Ireland and India. In 1993, as a celebration of the prize’s 25th anniversary, a Booker of Booker’s Prize was given to Salman Rushdie’s 1981 book Midnight’s Children, recognizing it as “the best novel out of all the winners.” A similar prize known as the Best of the Booker was awarded in 2008 to celebrate the prize’s 40th anniversary. Once again, Midnight’s Children was chosen as the winner.
This Year’s Booker Prize
The prize has been awarded to a diverse range of authors over the past few years–the last five winners included citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica. In 2016, Paul Beatty became the first American winner of the prize, which he received for his novel The Sellout. The longlist for the 2017 Booker will be revealed July 27; the shortlist will be announced September 13. The big reveal will take place at London’s Guildhall on October 17, where this year’s Booker Prize winner will be recognized for his or her hard work and great literary talent.