Criteria: ‘The Man Booker International Prize recognises one writer for his or her achievement in fiction. 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.
The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In seeking out literary excellence, the judges consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel.’
Man Booker International Prize 2013 Nominees:
Rather than being overshadowed by its older literary counterpart, the Man Booker International has managed to hold its own ground with relative ease. This is partly due to one considerable difference: the Man Booker International Prize is awarded to a writer’s whole body of work rather than a single novel. This means that the Man Booker International starts to become less of a throw-away prize, overshadowed by its older sibling, and more of a cultural heavyweight in its own right.
Or does it? The biennial prize is young, to our surprise, having only started in 2005 which means that this year marks its fifth birthday. Compared to the Man Booker, established in 1968, the prize seems rather green. But perhaps that is an unfair criticism because the award is growing – it is growing out into the rest of the world. I mean, you can’t have the Man Booker International without ‘international books’. (What would that get you? Probably Hilary Mantel.) At the same time, it is maturing into the prestige of the Man Booker name, refining its processes and becoming increasingly selective.
Take the first list of nominees in 2005: seventeen in total, eight from English-speaking countries (US, UK and Canada), and then a smattering of other countries. English language countries appear in the same numbers in 2007, but then only six in 2009 and 2011. This year, the shortlist, revealed in late January, has been whittled down to just ten nominees with just three writers writing in English. Of course, diversity is not necessarily a fair method for criticising awards, but it does offer an insight into how ‘lists’ are, and can be, created. In fact, the issue of national diversity might be part of a bigger problem, a symptom of a translation phobia: a lack of global literary awareness, due either to a reluctance or unwillingness to translate. This has certainly dogged a few other awards over the years before. (I’m looking at you Nobel) – but the Man Booker International seems to be moving away from its Anglocentrism and embracing contemporary world literature.
But should the increase in diversity mean something? I believe so, and to some extent the chair-judge, Sir Christopher Ricks, seems to as well. The announcement of the finalists is littered with phrases such as the list ‘[opening] up a wealth of possibilities’, that only a few writers carry a ‘wide international profile’, and the list being ‘nothing familiar or expected’, all of which point towards a certain model that the judges must have been carrying out. This is worth noting, because the Man Booker International nominees are chosen by judges alone. There is no submission process – which perhaps partly explains a further deviance from previous years in the increase of judges from three to five.
Nevertheless the prize means business; it means to stay. And with a £60,000 prize (more than the Man Booker) it seems that the Foundation means it to stay also. ‘One of the benefits of such a high-profile prize is that it brings with it is own sense of momentum’, reads the finalist announcement. However, if the prize is judged on a writer’s whole body of work, then one must ask if they need that money? Presumably to have multiple works, and to be nominated in the first place, one must be pretty successful already? The previous winners I believe reflect this: Munro, Roth, Achebe, Kadare. All are brilliant, all are global, but they are all safe and pretty well-renowned, regardless of the prize and the award cheque.
Which is why I am excited about 2013. The nominees are more eclectic this year. They are international definitely. There is a sense that the prize could mean something to these writers, many of whom I imagine are much less well read internationally – (and of course by internationally I do really mean in the West) – than their previous nominees. Perhaps for once there is an edge of the unknown, of a romanticised exoticness that so often come with foreign literature, rightly or otherwise. Nevertheless we are certainly looking forward to the winner’s reveal – no doubt somebody to add to our to-read list, though we may just end up adding them all.
This year the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize will be on the 22nd of May in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.