The History of the Booker Prize

The Booker Prize is a prestigious literary award, given annually to an English language novel published in the UK and Ireland that year. A panel of expert judges vote on which work of fiction they believe to be the greatest and, therefore, which author deserves the £50,000 prize.

History of the Booker Prize

The Booker Prize, the Booker McConnell Prize, began in 1968. Booker McConnell, a multinational wholesaler, founded and funded the award. Booker McConnell had its roots in the sugar industry, originally making its fortune from plantations in British Guiana. So, my first question was…

What does a wholesaler have to do with literature?

The Chairman of Booker McConnell, Jock Campbell, was connected with author, Ian Fleming. In 1964, Fleming sold the copywrite for James Bond to Campbell, thus creating the Author’s Division (a very profitable business which acquired the rights to many other famous authors). When two publishers later needed money for a new literary prize, they came to Booker McConnell for sponsorship.  

Together with the Publishers Association, Booker McConnell founded and funded the literary prize, awarding £5,000 to the greatest English-language writers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Commonwealth.

Why is the prize so contraversial?

The prize has always been controversial – initially funded by a company whose fortunes were built on slavery and exploitation, the ethics of this award are often questioned. ‘Booker’s Bitter Legacy: British Guiana after Empire’ by Ben Richardson explores the history of the Booker Prize – it’s a fascinating read and one that I’m glad I read before taking on this challenge!

And so my challenge begins…

All in all, the murky reputation of the Booker Prize called into question why I even started this series. Do I really want to feed the fascination with Booker? The short answer is no, I don’t want to put the Booker Prize on a pedestal, accepting it as the pinnacle of literary criticism. But regardless of the history, I’m excited and inspired to read the many authors whose work has been propelled to fame by winning, writers who may have otherwise entirely passed me by.

On that note, the first in my series of Booker Prize winner reviews comes later this week – The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (a mammoth of a book which has taken me ages to finish!) Check back in a few days to hear my thoughts on the winner from the year 2000.

For more info on the prize…

Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Man Booker Prize: A Controversial History, The Oxford Student

Man Booker prize: a history of controversy, criticism and literary greats , The Guardian

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