Booker Prize

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The Booker Prize
Booker Prize Logo.svg
Awarded forBest work of sustained fiction of the year, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland
Location Somerset House, Strand, London, England
CountryUnited Kingdom  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Presented by
First awarded1969;55 years ago (1969)

The Booker Prize, formerly the Booker Prize for Fiction (1969–2001) and the Man Booker Prize (2002–2019), is a prestigious literary award conferred each year for the best single work of sustained fiction written in the English language, which was published in the United Kingdom and/or Ireland. The winner of the Booker Prize receives £50,000, as well as international publicity that usually leads to a significant sales boost. [1] When the prize was created, only novels written by Commonwealth, Irish, and South African (and later Zimbabwean) citizens were eligible to receive the prize; in 2014, eligibility was widened to any English-language novel—a change that proved controversial. [2] [3]


A five-person panel consisting of authors, publishers and journalists, as well as politicians, actors, artists and musicians, [4] is appointed by the Booker Prize Foundation each year to choose the winning book. [5] [6] As of 2015, the chief executive of the Booker Prize Foundation is Gaby Wood. [7] [8] [9]

A high-profile literary award in British culture, the Booker Prize is greeted with anticipation and fanfare around the world. [10] Literary critics have noted that it is a mark of distinction for authors to be selected for inclusion in the shortlist or to be nominated for the "longlist". [1]

A sister prize, the International Booker Prize, is awarded for a work of fiction translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Unlike the Booker Prize, short story collections are eligible for the International Booker Prize. The £50,000 prize money is split evenly between the author and translator of the winning novel. [11]

History and administration

The prize was established as the "Booker Prize for Fiction" after the company Booker, McConnell Ltd began sponsoring the event in 1969; [12] it became commonly known as the "Booker Prize" or the "Booker". Jock Campbell, Charles Tyrrell and Tom Maschler were instrumental in establishing the prize.

When administration of the prize was transferred to the Booker Prize Foundation in 2002, the title sponsor became the investment company Man Group, which opted to retain "Booker" as part of the official title of the prize. The foundation is an independent registered charity funded by the entire profits of Booker Prize Trading Ltd, of which it is the sole shareholder. [13] The prize money awarded with the Booker Prize was originally £5,000. [14] It doubled in 1978 to £10,000 and was subsequently raised to £50,000 in 2002 under the sponsorship of the Man Group, making it one of the world's richest literary prizes. Each of the shortlisted authors receives £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. [14]

The original Booker Prize trophy was designed by the artist Jan Pieńkowski [15] and the design was revived for the 2023 prize.


The first winner of the Booker Prize was P. H. Newby in 1969 for his novel Something to Answer For . W. L. Webb, The Guardian 's Literary Editor, was chair of the inaugural set of judges, [16] who included Rebecca West, Stephen Spender, Frank Kermode and David Farrer. [17]

In 1970, Bernice Rubens became the first woman to win the Booker Prize, for The Elected Member . [18] The rules of the Booker changed in 1971; previously, it had been awarded retrospectively to books published prior to the year in which the award was given. In 1971, the year of eligibility was changed to the same as the year of the award; in effect, this meant that books published in 1970 were not considered for the Booker in either year. The Booker Prize Foundation announced in January 2010 the creation of a special award called the "Lost Man Booker Prize", with the winner chosen from a longlist of 22 novels published in 1970. [19]

Alice Munro's The Beggar Maid was shortlisted in 1980, and remains the only short-story collection to be shortlisted. [20]

John Sutherland, who was a judge for the 1999 prize, has said:

There is a well-established London literary community. Rushdie doesn't get shortlisted now because he has attacked that community. That is not a good game plan if you want to win the Booker. Norman Mailer has found the same thing in the US – you have to "be a citizen" if you want to win prizes. The real scandal is that [Martin] Amis has never won the prize. In fact, he has only been shortlisted once and that was for Time's Arrow , which was not one of his strongest books. That really is suspicious. He pissed people off with Dead Babies and that gets lodged in the culture. There is also the feeling that he has always looked towards America. [21]

In 1972, winning writer John Berger, known for his Marxist worldview, protested during his acceptance speech against Booker McConnell. He blamed Booker's 130 years of sugar production in the Caribbean for the region's modern poverty. [22] [23] Berger donated half of his £5,000 prize to the British Black Panther movement, because it had a socialist and revolutionary perspective in agreement with his own. [24] [22] [12] [25]


In 1980, Anthony Burgess, writer of Earthly Powers , refused to attend the ceremony unless it was confirmed to him in advance whether he had won. [12] His was one of two books considered likely to win, the other being Rites of Passage by William Golding. The judges decided only 30 minutes before the ceremony, giving the prize to Golding. Both novels had been seen as favourites to win leading up to the prize, and the dramatic "literary battle" between two senior writers made front-page news. [12] [26]

In 1981, nominee John Banville wrote a letter to The Guardian requesting that the prize be given to him so that he could use the money to buy every copy of the longlisted books in Ireland and donate them to libraries, "thus ensuring that the books not only are bought but also read – surely a unique occurrence". [12] [27]

Judging for the 1983 award produced a draw between J. M. Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K and Salman Rushdie's Shame , leaving chair of judges Fay Weldon to choose between the two. According to Stephen Moss in The Guardian, "Her arm was bent and she chose Rushdie", only to change her mind as the result was being phoned through. [21] At the award ceremony, Fay Weldon used her speech to attack the assembled publishers, accusing them of exploiting and undervaluing authors. "I will ask you if in your dealings with authors you are really being fair, and honourable, and right? Or merely getting away with what you can? If you are not careful, you will kill the goose that lays your golden eggs." [28]

In 1988, Peter Carey won the first of his two Booker Prizes for Oscar and Lucinda (which would later be shortlisted for The Best of the Booker).

In 1992, the jury split the prize between Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger . This prompted the foundation to draw up a rule that made it mandatory for the appointed jury to make the award to just a single author/book.

The choice of James Kelman's book How Late It Was, How Late as 1994 Booker Prize winner proved to be one of the most controversial in the award's history. [29] Rabbi Julia Neuberger, one of the judges, declared it "a disgrace" and left the event, later deeming the book to be "crap"; WHSmith's marketing manager called the award "an embarrassment to the whole book trade"; Waterstones in Glasgow sold a mere 13 copies of Kelman's book the following week. [30] In 1994, The Guardian's literary editor Richard Gott, citing the lack of objective criteria and the exclusion of American authors, described the prize as "a significant and dangerous iceberg in the sea of British culture that serves as a symbol of its current malaise". [12] [31]

In 1996, A. L. Kennedy served as a judge; in 2001, she called the prize "a pile of crooked nonsense" with the winner determined by "who knows who, who's sleeping with who, who's selling drugs to who, who's married to who, whose turn it is". [21]

In 1997, the decision to award Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things proved controversial. Carmen Callil, chair of the previous year's Booker judges, called it an "execrable" book and said on television that it should not even have been on the shortlist. Booker Prize chairman Martyn Goff said Roy won because nobody objected, following the rejection by the judges of Bernard MacLaverty's shortlisted book due to their dismissal of him as "a wonderful short-story writer and that Grace Notes was three short stories strung together". [32]


Before 2001, each year's longlist of nominees was not publicly revealed. [33] From 2001, the longlisted novels started to be published each year, and in 2007 the number of nominees was capped at 12 or 13 each year. [14]

In 2001, Peter Carey won his second Booker Prize for True History of the Kelly Gang , a work now ranked by The Guardian as one of the 100 greatest novels written in English. [34] Carey is one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice, the others being J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, and Margaret Atwood.

The Booker Prize created a permanent home for the archives from 1968 to present at Oxford Brookes University Library. The Archive, which encompasses the administrative history of the Prize from 1968 to date, collects together a diverse range of material, including correspondence, publicity material, copies of both the Longlists and the Shortlists, minutes of meetings, photographs and material relating to the awards dinner (letters of invitation, guest lists, seating plans). Embargoes of ten or twenty years apply to certain categories of material; examples include all material relating to the judging process and the Longlist prior to 2002. [35]

Between 2005 and 2008, the Booker Prize alternated between writers from Ireland and India. "Outsider" John Banville began this trend in 2005 when his novel The Sea was selected as a surprise winner: [36] Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of The Independent , famously condemned it as "possibly the most perverse decision in the history of the award" and rival novelist Tibor Fischer poured scorn on Banville's victory. [37] Kiran Desai of India won in 2006. Anne Enright's 2007 victory came about due to a jury badly split over Ian McEwan's novel On Chesil Beach . The following year it was India's turn again, with Aravind Adiga narrowly defeating Enright's fellow Irishman Sebastian Barry. [38]

2015 logo of the then Man Booker Prize The Man Booker Prize 2015 logo.png
2015 logo of the then Man Booker Prize

Historically, the winner of the Booker Prize had been required to be a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe. It was announced on 18 September 2013 that future Booker Prize awards would consider authors from anywhere in the world, so long as their work was in English and published in the UK. [39] This change proved controversial in literary circles. Former winner A. S. Byatt and former judge John Mullan said the prize risked diluting its identity, whereas former judge A. L. Kennedy welcomed the change. [2] [3] [40] Following this expansion, the first winner not from the Commonwealth, Ireland, or Zimbabwe was American Paul Beatty in 2016. Another American, George Saunders, won the following year. [41] In 2018, publishers sought to reverse the change, arguing that the inclusion of American writers would lead to homogenisation, reducing diversity and opportunities everywhere, including in America, to learn about "great books that haven't already been widely heralded". [40]

Man Group announced in early 2019 that the year's prize would be the last of eighteen under their sponsorship. [42] A new sponsor, Crankstart  – a charitable foundation run by Sir Michael Moritz and his wife, Harriet Heyman – then announced it would sponsor the award for five years, with the option to renew for another five years. The award title was changed to simply "The Booker Prize". [43] [44]

In 2019, despite having been unequivocally warned against doing so, the foundation's jury – under the chair Peter Florence – split the prize, awarding it to two authors, in breach of a rule established in 1993. Florence justified the decision, saying: "We came down to a discussion with the director of the Booker Prize about the rules. And we were told quite firmly that the rules state that you can only have one winner ... and as we have managed the jury all the way through on the principle of consensus, our consensus was that it was our decision to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners." [45] The two were British writer Bernardine Evaristo for her novel Girl, Woman, Other and Canadian writer Margaret Atwood for The Testaments . Evaristo's win marked the first time the Booker had been awarded to a black woman, while Atwood's win, at 79, made her the oldest winner. [46] [47]


In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual award ceremony was replaced with a livestream from the Roundhouse in London, without the shortlisted authors in attendance. The winner was Douglas Stuart for his debut novel Shuggie Bain , which had been rejected by over 30 publishers. [48]

2021's small-scale ceremony, once again impacted by COVID-19, saw South African writer Damon Galgut, who had been shortlisted in 2003 and 2010, win the prize for The Promise .

2022 saw a reimagined winner ceremony at the Roundhouse, hosted by comedian Sophie Duker and featuring a keynote speech by singer Dua Lipa. [49] The prize was won by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka for his second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida .

In 2023, for the first time, the shortlist featured three writers named Paul [50] (Paul Lynch, Paul Murray and Paul Harding). The prize was won by Irish writer Paul Lynch for his novel Prophet Song . In the media, reaction was mixed. In the Guardian, Justine Jordan wrote that "This is a novel written to jolt the reader awake to truths we mostly cannot bear to admit", [51] while in the Telegraph, Cal Revely-Calder wrote that Prophet Song is "political fiction at its laziest" and "the weak link in a strong shortlist". [52]


The selection process for the winner of the prize commences with the appointment of a panel of five judges, which changes each year. Gaby Wood, the chief executive of the Booker Prize Foundation, chooses the judges in consultation with an advisory committee made up of senior figures from the UK publishing industry. On rare occasions a judge may be selected a second time. Judges are selected from amongst leading literary critics, writers, academics and leading public figures.

Unlike some other literary prizes, each judge is expected to read all of the books that have been submitted. (In 2023, the judges read 163 books over seven months. [53] ) After doing so, they select a longlist of 12 or 13 titles (the "Booker Dozen"), before each reading those books for a second time. They then select a shortlist of six titles, and read the six books a third time before selecting a winner.

The Booker judging process and the very concept of a "best book" being chosen by a small number of literary insiders is controversial for many. The Guardian introduced the "Not the Booker Prize" voted for by readers partly as a reaction to this. [54] Author Amit Chaudhuri wrote: "The idea that a 'book of the year' can be assessed annually by a bunch of people – judges who have to read almost a book a day – is absurd, as is the idea that this is any way of honouring a writer." [55]

The author Julian Barnes once dismissed the prize as "posh bingo" [56] for the apparently arbitrary way winners are selected. On winning the prize in 2011 he joked that he had revised his opinion, telling reporters that he had realised "the judges are the wisest heads in literary Christendom".

For many years, the winner was announced at a formal, black-tie dinner in London's Guildhall in early October. However, in 2020, with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in place, the winner ceremony was broadcast in November from the Roundhouse, in partnership with the BBC. [57] The ceremony returned to the Roundhouse for a more casual in-person ceremony in 2022, before moving to Old Billingsgate in London in 2023.

Legacy of British Empire

Luke Strongman noted that the rules for the Booker Prize as laid out in 1969, with recipients limited to novelists writing in English from Great Britain or nations that had once belonged to the British Empire, strongly suggested the purpose of the prize was to deepen ties between the nations that had all been a part of the empire. [58] The first book to win the Booker, Something to Answer For in 1969, concerned the misadventures of an Englishman in Egypt in the 1950s, at the time when British influence in Egypt was ending. [59] Strongman wrote that most of the books that have won the Booker Prize have in some way been concerned with the legacy of the British Empire, with many of the prize winners having engaged in imperial nostalgia. [58] However, over time many of the books that won the prize have reflected the changed balance of power from the emergence of new identities in the former colonies of the empire, and with it "culture after the empire". [60] The attempts of successive British officials to mould "the natives" into their image did not fully succeed, but did profoundly and permanently change the cultures of the colonised, a theme that some non-white winners of the Booker prize have engaged with in various ways. [59]


1969 P. H. Newby [61] Something to Answer For NovelUnited Kingdom
1970 Bernice Rubens [62] The Elected Member NovelUnited Kingdom
1971 V. S. Naipaul [63] In a Free State NovelUnited Kingdom
Trinidad and Tobago
1972 John Berger [64] G. Experimental novel United Kingdom
1973 J. G. Farrell [65] The Siege of Krishnapur NovelUnited Kingdom
1974 Nadine Gordimer [66] The Conservationist NovelSouth Africa
Stanley Middleton [67] Holiday NovelUnited Kingdom
1975 Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Heat and Dust Historical novelUnited Kingdom
1976 David Storey [68] Saville NovelUnited Kingdom
1977 Paul Scott [69] Staying On NovelUnited Kingdom
1978 Iris Murdoch [70] The Sea, the Sea Philosophical novel United Kingdom
1979 Penelope Fitzgerald [71] Offshore NovelUnited Kingdom
1980 William Golding [72] Rites of Passage NovelUnited Kingdom
1981 Salman Rushdie [73] Midnight's Children Magic realism United Kingdom
1982 Thomas Keneally [74] Schindler's Ark Biographical novel Australia
1983 J. M. Coetzee [75] Life & Times of Michael K NovelSouth Africa
1984 Anita Brookner [76] Hotel du Lac NovelUnited Kingdom
1985 Keri Hulme [77] The Bone People Mystery novel New Zealand
1986 Kingsley Amis [78] The Old Devils Comic novel United Kingdom
1987 Penelope Lively [79] Moon Tiger NovelUnited Kingdom
1988 Peter Carey [80] Oscar and Lucinda Historical novelAustralia
1989 Kazuo Ishiguro [81] The Remains of the Day Historical novelUnited Kingdom
1990 A. S. Byatt [82] Possession Historiographic metafiction United Kingdom
1991 Ben Okri [83] The Famished Road Magic realismNigeria
1992 Michael Ondaatje [84] The English Patient Historiographic metafiction Canada
Sri Lanka
Barry Unsworth [85] Sacred Hunger Historical novelUnited Kingdom
1993 Roddy Doyle [86] Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha NovelIreland
1994 James Kelman [87] How Late It Was, How Late Stream of consciousness United Kingdom
1995 Pat Barker [88] The Ghost Road War novel United Kingdom
1996 Graham Swift [89] Last Orders NovelUnited Kingdom
1997 Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things NovelIndia
1998 Ian McEwan [90] Amsterdam NovelUnited Kingdom
1999 J. M. Coetzee [91] Disgrace NovelSouth Africa
2000 Margaret Atwood [92] The Blind Assassin Historical novelCanada
2001 Peter Carey [93] True History of the Kelly Gang Historical novelAustralia
2002 Yann Martel [94] Life of Pi Fantasy and adventure novel Canada
2003 DBC Pierre [95] Vernon God Little Black comedy Australia
2004 Alan Hollinghurst [96] The Line of Beauty Historical novelUnited Kingdom
2005 John Banville The Sea NovelIreland
2006 Kiran Desai [97] The Inheritance of Loss NovelIndia
2007 Anne Enright The Gathering NovelIreland
2008 Aravind Adiga [98] The White Tiger NovelIndia
2009 Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall Historical novelUnited Kingdom
2010 Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question Comic novel United Kingdom
2011 Julian Barnes [99] The Sense of an Ending NovelUnited Kingdom
2012 Hilary Mantel Bring Up the Bodies Historical novelUnited Kingdom
2013 Eleanor Catton [100] The Luminaries Historical novelNew Zealand
2014 Richard Flanagan [101] The Narrow Road to the Deep North Historical novelAustralia
2015 Marlon James [102] A Brief History of Seven Killings Historical/experimental novelJamaica
2016 Paul Beatty [103] The Sellout Satirical novelUnited States
2017 George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo Historical/experimental novelUnited States
2018 Anna Burns [104] Milkman NovelUnited Kingdom
2019 Margaret Atwood The Testaments NovelCanada
Bernardine Evaristo [105] Girl, Woman, Other Experimental novelUnited Kingdom
2020 Douglas Stuart [106] Shuggie Bain NovelUnited Kingdom
United States
2021 Damon Galgut [107] The Promise NovelSouth Africa
2022 Shehan Karunatilaka [108] The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida NovelSri Lanka
2023 Paul Lynch [109] Prophet Song Dystopian novel Ireland

Special awards

In 1971, the nature of the prize was changed so that it was awarded to novels published in that year instead of in the previous year; therefore, no novel published in 1970 could win the Booker Prize. This was rectified in 2010 by the awarding of the "Lost Man Booker Prize" to J. G. Farrell's Troubles . [110]

In 1993, to mark the prize's 25th anniversary, a "Booker of Bookers" Prize was given. Three previous judges of the award, Malcolm Bradbury, David Holloway and W. L. Webb, met and chose Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children , the 1981 winner, as "the best novel out of all the winners". [111]

In 2006, the Man Booker Prize set up a "Best of Beryl" prize, for the author Beryl Bainbridge, who had been nominated five times and yet failed to win once. The prize is said to count as a Booker Prize. The nominees were An Awfully Big Adventure , Every Man for Himself , The Bottle Factory Outing , The Dressmaker and Master Georgie , which won.

Similarly, The Best of the Booker was awarded in 2008 to celebrate the prize's 40th anniversary. A shortlist of six winners was chosen — Rushdie's Midnight's Children , Coetzee' Disgrace , Carey's Oscar and Lucinda , Gordimer's The Conservationist , Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur , and Barker's The Ghost Road — and the decision was left to a public vote; the winner was again Midnight's Children. [112] [113]

In 2018, to celebrate the 50th anniversary, the Golden Man Booker was awarded. One book from each decade was selected by a panel of judges: Naipaul's In a Free State (the 1971 winner), Lively's Moon Tiger (1987), Ondaatje's The English Patient (1992), Mantel's Wolf Hall (2009) and Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (2017). The winner, by popular vote, was The English Patient. [114]


Since 2014, each publisher's imprint may submit a number of titles based on their longlisting history (previously they could submit two). Non-longlisted publishers can submit one title, publishers with one or two longlisted books in the previous five years can submit two, publishers with three or four longlisted books are allowed three submissions, and publishers with five or more longlisted books can have four submissions.

In addition, previous winners of the prize are automatically considered if they enter new titles. Books may also be called in: publishers can make written representations to the judges to consider titles in addition to those already entered. In the 21st century the average number of books considered by the judges has been approximately 130. [115] [39]

A separate prize for which any living writer in the world may qualify, the Man Booker International Prize, was inaugurated in 2005. Until 2015, it was given every two years to a living author of any nationality for a body of work published in English or generally available in English translation. In 2016, the award was significantly reconfigured, and is now given annually to a single book in English translation, with a £50,000 prize for the winning title, shared equally between author and translator. The award has been known as the International Booker Prize since the Man Group ended its association with the prizes in 2019.

A Russian version of the Booker Prize was created in 1992 called the Booker-Open Russia Literary Prize, also known as the Russian Booker Prize. In 2007, Man Group plc established the Man Asian Literary Prize, an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English, and published in the previous calendar year.

For many years, as part of The Times 's Literature Festival in Cheltenham, a Booker event was held on the last Saturday of the festival. Four guest speakers/judges debated a shortlist of four books from a given year from before the introduction of the Booker Prize, and a winner was chosen. Unlike the real Booker Prize (1969 through 2014), writers from outside the Commonwealth were also considered. In 2008, the winner for 1948 was Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country , beating Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead , Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter and Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One . In 2015, the winner for 1915 was Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier , beating The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan), Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham), Psmith, Journalist (P. G. Wodehouse) and The Voyage Out (Virginia Woolf). [116]

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Further reading