Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, discusses the Man Booker Prize.
"From the very beginning of what was originally called the Booker Prize there was just one criterion - the prize would be for 'the best novel in the opinion of the judges'. And 42 years later that is still a key sentence in the rules.
It is a measure of the quality of the original drafting that the main ambitions of the prize have not changed. The aim was to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract 'the intelligent general audience'. The press release announcing the prize elaborated on this: ‘The real success will be a significant increase in the sales of the winning book... that will to some extent be shared not only by the authors who have been shortlisted, but, in the long run, by authors all over the country.’
Our judges are not confined to any in-group of literary critics, authors and academics, but over the years have included poets, politicians, journalists, broadcasters and actors. This ‘common man’ approach to the selection of Man Booker juries is, I believe, one of the key reasons why ‘the intelligent general audience’ trusts the prize.
I believe I can say this having one way and another been involved in the inner workings of the prize for all but its earliest years. I chaired the jury in 1974 – its sixth year – when the prize was shared between The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer and Holiday by Stanley Middleton. (It needs to be emphasised that the prize is awarded to a particular book rather than to an author.) Eight years later I edited Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally – still the prize’s bestselling winner with some two million copies sold in its UK editions. And more recently I have been increasingly involved in the prize’s administration, eventually taking over as Literary Director in 2005.
Although the ‘significant interest in sales’ took a decade to happen, the roll call of winners and the idea of publishing both a longlist and a shortlist – original concepts when they became part of the prize process, and now widely adopted by prizes generally – have contributed to its success. Which is why the Man Booker has become influential beyond the wildest dreams of its founding fathers."
The prize, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008 after launching in 1969, aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.To maintain the consistent excellence of the Man Booker Prize, judges are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.
The winner of the Man Booker Prize receives £50,000 and, like all the shortlisted authors, a cheque for £2,500 and a designer bound copy of their book. Fulfilling one of the objectives of the prize - to encourage the widest possible readership for the best in literary fiction - the winner and the shortlisted authors now enjoy a dramatic increase in book sales worldwide.
Previous winners of the Man Booker Prize can be viewed in Explore the Archive.
For more information on the Man Booker Prize, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.
Worth £60,000, the prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel and there are no submissions from publishers.
Launched in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize has already established itself as a major player in the literary world and has literary excellence as its sole focus.
The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights one writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. In seeking out literary excellence, the judges consider a writer's body of work rather than a single novel.
Writers from across the globe are eligible for the biennial prize, provided their work is available in English. Previous winners include Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadare in 2005, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011 and Lydia Davis in 2013.
Previous winners of the Man Booker International Prize can be viewed in Explore the Archive.