Cape Town gets a literary nod

Cape Town gets a literary nod
The international prize differs from the Man Booker Prize in that it honours a writer’s body of work and achievement and contribution to international fiction, as opposed to focusing on a single work. (Image: Janie Airey, Man Booker Prize)


• Man Booker International Prize
Truda Spruyt
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Melissa Jane Cook

Cape Town, this year’s World Design Capital, has been named as the host city for the announcement of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize finalists list next March.

Planning of the event is already beginning, with the Man Booker International Prize organisers in partnership with the University of Cape Town. The list of finalists has traditionally been published in a city other than London, home of the Booker Prize Foundation; it has previously taken place in Toronto, Washington DC, New York City, Sydney and Jaipur.

The international prize differs from the Man Booker Prize in that it honours a writer’s body of work and achievement and contribution to international fiction, as opposed to focusing on a single work. The £60 000 (R1 094 730) prize is awarded every second year, to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in English.

The last prize, in 2013, was won by American author Lydia Davis. Other winners include Philip Roth (2011), Alice Munro (2009), the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (2007), and Ismail Kadare (2005). In addition, there is a separate award for translation and, if applicable, the winner can choose a translator of his or her work into English to receive a prize of £15 000.

Judging panel

A diverse array of people makes up the judging panel for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. It is chaired by Marina Warner CBE, the British writer and academic, and consists of British-Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam; British-South African novelist, critic and professor of English at Oxford University, Elleke Boehmer; editorial director of the New York Review Classics series, Edwin Frank, and American; and professor of Arabic and comparative literature at Soas, University of London, Wen-chin Ouyang, who was born in Taiwan, raised in Libya and is now based in the United Kingdom.

Fiammetta Rocco, the administrator of the international prize, said: “We are in conversation with a number of potential partners in Cape Town, including the University of Cape Town, to firm up plans for an announcement in March 2015. We’re delighted to be bringing the announcement to the continent of Africa for the first time.”

The prize is sponsored by Man Group, the British investment management business. It also sponsors the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Fast facts

The Booker Prize for Fiction is in its 46th year. It became the Man Booker Prize in 2002 when the Man Group came on board as sponsor. That year, Yann Martel won the award with Life of Pi.

Since 1969, 30 men and 16 women have won the prize. The Booker Prize initially awarded £5 000 to its winners. The prize money doubled in 1978, and today the winner receives £60 000.

In 1974, eyebrows were raised when Kingsley Amis’s Ending Up appeared on the shortlist chosen by a judging panel that included his wife, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. In the end, the prize was split between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton.

The following year, there was a shortlist of only two books out of 83 submissions. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won with Heat and Dust. In 1977, the judging panel chair, poet Philip Larkin, threatened to jump out of the window if Paul Scott’s Staying On didn’t win. It did.

At 132 pages, the shortest novel to have won the Booker was Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald, in 1979. Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending were just slightly longer. In terms of length of eligible books, the rules simply state that the judges must be of the opinion that a book is a unified and substantial work.

Twice, two members of the same family have been recognised: Anita Desai has been shortlisted three times since 1980 but has never won; however, her daughter, Kiran, won in 2006. Martin Amis has been shortlisted and longlisted, in 1991 and 2003, respectively; his father, Kingsley Amis, won the Booker in 1986.

Jonathan Cape is the publisher with the highest number of winning titles, with eight winners: The Sense of An Ending by Barnes in 2011, The Gathering by Anne Enright in 2007, Amsterdam by Ian McEwan in 1998, The Famished Road by Ben Okri in 1991, Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner in 1984, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie in 1981, Saville by David Storey in 1976 and The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer in 1974. Faber & Faber follows with six winning titles.

One of the bestselling Booker winners is Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, which was adapted into the box office hit Schindler’s List. The film by Steven Spielberg won seven Academy Awards.

Two authors have won the prize with their first and, so far, only novels: Keri Hulme with The Bone People in 1985, and Arundhati Roy with The God of Small Things in 1997.

Over the years, winners have admitted to what they planned to do with their prize money. In 1990, AS Byatt famously announced she would use her money to buy a swimming pool for her house in Provence, while McEwan said he would probably spend the money on “something perfectly useless” rather than fritter it away on things like “bus fairs and linoleum”. When Howard Jacobson won in 2010, he promised to buy his wife a new handbag.

A number of Booker and Man Booker winning novels have been adapted into film. Some of the best-known are Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1989 novel Remains of the Day and Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel The English Patient. Other adaptations include Midnight’s Children, Life of Pi and Byatt’s Possession.

Hilary Mantel was the first woman and the first British author to win the prize twice. JM Coetzee was the first person to win twice, in 1983 and again in 1999, when he described the Booker as “the ultimate prize to win in the English-speaking world”. Peter Carey first won in 1988 and then again in 2001. Mantel was the first person to win the prize for two novels in a trilogy.

In 2013, Eleanor Catton made Man Booker Prize history twice – as the youngest winner at 28, with the longest winning novel at 832 pages. Catton began writing The Luminaries when she was 25 and was just the second New Zealander to win. In September that year, the organisers announced the global expansion of the Man Booker Prize to include novels originally written in English and published in the United Kingdom, regardless of the nationality of the author.