Booker Prize

Out of all the books you have read, which would you say is the best novel written in English? Since 1969, the Booker Foundation has sponsored a competition awarding an author for writing the best novel of the year. Winning the Booker Prize brings an author international publicity, acclaim, increased book sales, and a £50,000 prize.

Booker Prize Booker Prize

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    Booker Prize, London Big Ben, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Booker Prize is awarded for books published in the U.K. and Ireland.

    The Meaning of the Booker Prize

    The Booker Prize is a prestigious literary award in the English-speaking world. The prize is awarded each year for the best piece of fiction written in English and published either in the U.K. or Ireland. The prize winner is awarded £50,000; six shortlisted authors are awarded £2,500 each year. Both novels and short story collections are eligible.

    Who decides who wins the Booker Prize?

    The Booker Prize is selected by a small panel of judges, who are prominent literary critics, writers, academics, and public figures. An advisory committee chooses the judging panel made up of seven individuals, including a writer, two publishers, a literary agent, a bookseller, a librarian, and a chairperson of the Booker Prize Foundation.

    The organization is transparent about the judges; their information can be found on the Booker Prize website. However, there is some controversy over such a small group of individuals deciding what qualifies as the best book of the year.

    The Importance of the Booker Prize

    The Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the English language. The prize aims to support writers and encourage the reading of quality fiction. The prize helps establish lists of critically acclaimed novels.

    The Booker Prize is important for authors because the exposure they gain from the prize often significantly increases their book sales. The prize money also gives writers financial support to continue their artistic endeavors.

    Booker Prize Controversies and Criticisms

    As the Booker Prize is a highly publicized and established literary award, there are many controversies that surround it. Controversies and criticisms surrounding the Booker Prize include:

    • The prize judges have made last-minute decisions to determine the winners. In 1980, Anthony Burgess said that he would not attend the ceremony unless he knew he would win. However, the final decision was made thirty minutes before the winner, William Golding, was announced. Also, in 1983, votes were tied between J.M. Coetzee and Salman Rushdie's novels. Fay Weldon, the deciding chair member, switched her vote from Coetzee to Rushdie minutes before the results were due.
    • The prize was criticized in the 1980s for being too elitist in its book selections. On the other hand, it was criticized in 2011 for choosing books that were easy to read rather than books having literary merit.
    • As the prize's panel of judges changes each year, judges from previous panels frequently criticize decisions made by newer judges. For example, the 1996 chair member and author Carmen Callil said that the 1997 prize-winning book, The God of Small Things (1997) by Arundhati Roy, should not have even been nominated.
    • Judges have also threatened to leave the prize committee based on nominee and prize winner decisions. For example, in 1993, two judges said that they wanted to quit the committee due to the nomination of Trainspotting (1993) by Irvine Welsh. The judges said that the "vulgar" book offended their feminist beliefs. As a result, the book was not shortlisted.
    • The prize is criticized for bias as nominations and votes can be based on who knows whom in literary circles.
    • There have been many controversial wins in Booker Prize history. One is when John Banville's novel, The Sea (2005), won the 2005 prize over Kazuo Ishiguro's book, Never Let Me Go (2005).
    • In the 1900s, the prize was criticized for lacking diversity in the judge's panel and nominations.

    The History of the Booker Prize

    The Booker Prize was first awarded in 1969 to the English novelist P.H. Newby for his novel Something to Answer For (1968). The idea for the prize was developed by two publishers named Tom Maschler and Graham C. Greene. Their objective was to encourage interest and discussion of contemporary fiction and to make fiction an integral part of British culture. The Booker McConnell conglomerate agreed to back the prize, as it had recently set out to develop an interest in literary estates.

    The Booker Prize was known as the Booker Prize for Fiction from 1969 to 2001. From 2002 to 2019, it was known as the Man Booker Prize.

    The Booker Prize for Fiction changed its name to the Man Booker Prize because of its new sponsor, the Man Group. The 'Man' part of the name was dropped in 2019, as the Man Group stopped sponsoring it.

    When the Booker Prize for Fiction was initially created, only novels that were written by U.K., Commonwealth, Irish, and South African citizens were eligible. However, beginning in 2014, the eligibility was expanded to authors from any country, as long as their books were written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

    The first Booker Prize ceremony was televised on the BBC in 1976. The ceremony is broadcast by the BBC each year to this day. The publicity and reputation of the Brooker Prize give a global audience and showcase contemporary authors' works.

    Booker Prize, BBC Sign, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The BBC stands for The British Broadcasting Corporation, which is headquartered in London, England.

    Booker Prize Winners

    Here is some information about significant books that have won the Booker Prize over the past five decades.

    2021 Booker Prize Winner

    In 2021, Damon Galgus won the Booker Prize for his novel The Promise (2021). The novel is set in South Africa after the apartheid and follows the story of a white family's disintegration through a series of funerals.

    2020 Booker Prize Winner

    In 2020, the Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain (2020). Shuggie Bain is a book about a boy growing up in working-class Glasgow during the 1980s with his alcoholic mother, Agnes.

    2019 Booker Prize Winner

    In 2019, the British author and academic Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize for her eighth novel, Girl, Woman, Other (2019). The book is about 12 characters who are figuring out life in the U.K. over the span of several decades. Through the characters' lives, Bernardine Evaristo explores themes of racism, relationships, gender, and sexuality.

    Girl, Woman, Other was the 2019 joint winner with Margaret Atwood's novel, The Testaments (2019), which is a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale (1985).

    2002 Booker Prize Winner

    In 2002, the Canadian author Yann Martel won the Booker Prize for his novel Life of Pi (2001). Life of Pi is a novel about an Indian boy who survives 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The book explores ideas of religion, spirituality, and metaphysics.

    Booker Prize, Bengal Tiger Face, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Life of Pi was turned into a movie directed by Ang Lee, which was released in 2012.

    2000 Booker Prize Winner

    In 2000, the Canadian author Margaret Atwood won the Booker Prize for her novel The Blind Assassin (2000). The book is set in a fictional town in Toronto, Ontario, where a young woman describes her risky affair with a man on the run.

    1989 Booker Prize Winner

    In 1989, the Nobel Prize-winning Japanese-British author Kazuo Ishiguro won the Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day (1989). The book is told from the perspective of a butler who has worked at a wealthy home near Oxford, England, for many years. He recounts his encounters and the events that took place during the 1920s and 1930s.

    In 1993, a film adaptation of The Remains of the Day was released. It starred Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson and was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

    1980 Booker Prize Winner

    In 1980, William Golding won the Booker Prize for his novel Rites of Passage (1980). It is the journal of a man's adventures as he sails to Australia in the early 1800s.

    William Golding is a Nobel Prize-winning author best known for his 1954 novel Lord of the Flies.

    Booker Prize, Ship at Sea, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Rites of Passage is the first book of a trilogy called A Sea Trilogy.

    1970 Booker Prize Winner

    In 1970, the Welsh novelist Bernice Rubens won the Booker Prize for her book, The Elected Member (1970). The book is about a close, reputed Jewish family whose relational dynamics deteriorate when the prodigious, successful son becomes a drug addict. He must be confined and committed to a mental institution because of his bad hallucinations, and the family must learn to deal with disappointments, guilt, and pain.

    Bernice Rubens was the first woman to win the Booker Prize.

    Difference Between Booker Prize and International Booker Prize

    While the Booker Prize is awarded for books originally written in English, the International Booker Prize is given to the finest books from around the world that were translated into English and published in the U.K. or Ireland.

    The International Booker Prize gives £50,000, which is split equally between the translator and the author. Shortlisted authors and translators also receive £2,500 to split. The International Booker Prize was established in 2005, while the Booker Prize was established much earlier, in 1969.

    From 2005 to 2015, the International Booker Prize did not have to be a translated work. It simply allowed for authors from any nationality to enter, whereas the regular Booker Prize specified U.K. or Irish citizenship until 2014.

    The International Booker Prize Winners

    Winners of the International Booker Prize before the translation stipulation include the Canadian short story writer and Nobel Laureate Alice Munro, the American writer Lydia Davis, and the American novelist Philip Roth.

    More recent International Booker Prize winners for works translated into English include:

    • 2022—Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
    • 2021At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis
    • 2020The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
    • 2019Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated from Arabic by Marilyn Booth
    • 2018Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft
    • 2017A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
    • 2016The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith

    Booker Prize - Key takeaways

    • The Booker Prize is a prestigious literary award in the English-speaking world. The Prize is awarded yearly for the best world of fiction written in English and published in the U.K. or Ireland.
    • The prize winner is awarded £50,000. Six shortlisted authors are awarded £2,500 each year.
    • The Booker Prize was first awarded in 1969 to the English novelist P.H. Newby for his novel, Something to Answer For (1968).
    • Additional novels that have won the Booker Prize include
    • While the Booker Prize is awarded for books originally written in English, the International Booker Prize is given to the finest books from around the world that were translated into English and published in the U.K. or Ireland.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Booker Prize

    What is the Booker Prize? 

    The Booker Prize is a prestigious literary award in the English-speaking world. The Prize is awarded each year for the best world of fiction written in English and published either in the UK or Ireland. The winner of the prize is awarded £50,000 and six shortlisted authors are awarded £2,500 each year. Both novels and short story collections are eligible. 

    How important is the Booker Prize?

    The Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary awards. The Booker Prize is important for authors because the exposure they gain from the Prize often significantly increases their book sales. 

    What is the origin of the Booker Prize? 

    The Booker Prize was first awarded in 1969 to the English novelist P.H. Newby for his novel, Something to Answer For (1968). The idea for the Prize was developed by two publishers named Tom Maschler and Graham C. Greene. The objective of the Prize was to encourage interest and discussion of contemporary fiction and to make fiction an integral part of British culture.

    Who won the Booker Prize in 2021?

    In 2021, Damon Galgus won the Booker Prize for his novel, The Promise (2021).

    What is the difference between Man Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize? 

    The difference is that while the Booker Prize is awarded for books originally written in English, the International Booker Prize is given to the finest books from around the world that were translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What year was the Booker Prize established?

    How much is the prize for the best novel worth?

    True or False: Shortlisted authors also receive a monetary prize. 

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