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The Booker Prize, the British equivalent of the Goncourt for 50 years, is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world, and promises to boost sales for the winners.
Here are five things to know before the award ceremony on October 14:
– History of names –
The Literary Prize was established in 1969 with funding from England’s largest food wholesaler, Booker.
British publishers, keen to find an English equivalent to the venerable Goncourt Prize, approached Jock Campbell, Booker’s chairman and literature lover, to sponsor the project.
The prize was renamed the “Man Booker Prize” in 2002 when the Man Group hedge fund became its financial sponsor.
It regained its former name in 2019 when it passed into the hands of the American charitable foundation Crankstart, founded by Silicon Valley billionaires.
– Fame and fortune –
The prize rewards a novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
The winner, whose name is revealed each year in October in London, wins 50,000 pounds (about 57,200 euros). Each finalist also pockets 2,500 pounds (about 2,860 euros).
These sums are far from that of the Nobel Prize for Literature endowed with 844,000 euros, but are among the most generous endowments among literary awards, like the Pulitzer Prize (nearly 13,600 euros) or the National Book Award in the United States. United (about 59,000 euros).
In France, the Goncourt prize offers only a symbolic ten euros to the winner, but comes with the promise of record sales.
The Booker winner, too, “is assured of international recognition and a surge in sales”, according to the English prize website.
– How it works ? –
For each edition a committee of Booker composes a panel of about five jurors, most often personalities from the literary world – writers, critics and publishers.
They have several months to read the many books in the running, then pre-select ten. From this selection emerge finalists, then a single winner is named.
– Award-winning translations –
In 2016, a parallel prize was created to reward fiction translated into English and published, there too, in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
The author and the translator of the winning novel share the endowment of 50,000 books of the international Booker Prize, unveiled each year in May.
French writer Annie Ernaux was part of the final selection in 2019 for “The Years”, translated by Alison Strayer.
– Controversies –
Reserved for British, Irish, Zimbabwean and Commonwealth authors, the Booker Prize opened up to American writers in 2014, sparking a lively controversy in the United Kingdom over the original purpose of the prize.
Double winner Peter Carey denounced in 2017 an award solely funded by Man Group to improve his brand image.
The selection of suitors has been criticized as being arbitrary, dissension has sometimes agitated the jury and the choice of the winner, sometimes openly repudiated by a juror, is subject to controversy.
Winners aren’t always thrilled either: in his acceptance speech in 1972, winner John Berger lamented the “hateful” competitive spirit surrounding the award.
The committed writer donated half of the money earned from his prize to the revolutionary African-American movement of the Black Panthers to denounce the exploitation of the Caribbean by commercial companies, including the financial sponsor of the Booker Prize.
© 2019 AFP
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Five things to know about the Booker Prize – France 24