It occurred to me last week that I didn’t know much about the Booker Prize. First established in 1969, the annual prize is awarded to the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Each year a new panel of five judges votes on the best book. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. The winner also receives global recognition and is what the Booker Prize website calls “a prize that that transforms a winner’s career.” It’s actually a big business and publishers also get into the thick of it when they nominate potential winners.
You can read all about the history of the prize here.
There is also the International Booker Prize, for a book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
The prize has had plenty of controversy. In 1980, Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers) was up for the award, along with William Golding (Rites of Passage). Burgess demanded to know the winner ahead of time and said he wouldn’t attend if Golding won.
According to anthonyburgess.org, “Burgess did not attend the ceremony, reportedly informing Martyn Goff, the administrator of the Prize, that there was ‘no way I’m putting on evening dress and coming unless I know I’ve won’. Looking back, Burgess claims that missing out on the Booker didn’t cause any anxiety. ‘It was evident to me,’ he writes. ‘that my novel was not Booker material.”
In 2019, the judges split the award (and the prize money) between two authors: Margaret Atwood (The Testament) and Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other). Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize and critics were outraged that she had to share it with another author. When asked if she would have preferred to be the only winner, she replied, “What do you think? Yes, but I’m happy to share it. That’s the kind of person I am.”
Pictured below: Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo.
I’ve read a few of the winners – all excellent (The Blind Assassin by Atwood, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart) and I recognize several others among the winners. But otherwise, most of the books on the list of winners have passed me by. This may be too literary a list for my tastes!
You can see all the winners here.
What do you think? Do you regularly read the Booker Prize winners?
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!
Thanks to the following sources:
The Booker Prize – Wikipedia
“Backlash after Booker awards prize to two authors” from The Guardian
“Inside the Booker Prize: arguments, agonies and carefully encouraged scandals” from The Guardian
Anthony Burgess – Wikipedia
Burgess’s Booker Prize nomination from anthonyburgess.org