The Booker: Five Things to Know about Fiction’s Hottest Prize

Paris, Nov 19 (AFP/APP): The Booker Prize for fiction is one of the world’s top literary awards, making the names of writers from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel.

The latest winner — chosen from the most diverse shortlist in its five-decade history — will be announced Thursday at a ceremony featuring former US president Barack Obama in London. Here is a recap of the prize’s highs and lows:

Fame and fortune

The prize is for a work of fiction originally written in English and published in the UK. The winner gets £50,000 (about $65,000, 57,000 euros). While well below the roughly $930,000 for the Nobel Prize for Literature, it tops the Pulitzer’s $15,000 purse. France’s Goncourt offers a symbolic 10 euros ($11). But sales of the winning book — and often those on the shortlist — skyrocket, with the Booker also promising “guaranteed international recognition”.

Rows and tantrums

The Booker sparked controversy from the start but there was consternation in Britain when the prize was opened to American writers in 2014. Previously it had been reserved to authors from Britain, Ireland, Commonwealth countries and Zimbabwe.

The “dice are now loaded against UK authors,” complained novelist and former judge Susan Hill. Australia’s two-time winner Peter Carey said it had become “an exercise in global corporate branding”.

The Booker is also notorious for clashes on the jury as well as the snobbery surrounding it. Some critics dismissed the 2011 shortlist as “too readable”. “Clockwork Orange” writer Anthony Burgess refused to attend the ceremony in 1980 unless he won. He didn’t and William Golding took home the money. Nor were all winners happy. John Berger gave half his prize to the Black Panther movement in 1972 and tore a strip off the sponsors for “exploiting the Caribbean”.

What’s in a name?

The prize was launched in 1969 by British publishers trying to match the glamour of France’s Prix Goncourt, with sponsorship from grocery wholesaler Booker. It was renamed The Man Booker Prize in 2002 in a nod to the hedge fund that took over sponsorship. In 2019 it reverted to its original name when US charity Crankstart Foundation, founded by Silicon Valley billionaires, became the funder.

Judges read 151 books

The five-person judging panel have several months to go through scores of books to settle on around a dozen candidates. This is whittled down to a shortlist of six and then a single winner. For this year’s award, 151 books were submitted.

Translation prize

In 2016 a separate £50,000 International Booker was introduced for a work of fiction translated into English, with money being divided between author and translator.

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