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Young at the heart of the 2017 Man Booker

Young at the heart of the 2017 Man Booker

Selecting the chair of the Man Booker Prize judges is a big decision. A bit like dogs resembling their owners it is the chair who sets the tone of the panel, chivvies and smoothes when the occasion calls, decides on procedure, cuts short judges who ramble on, and is the public face of all the work (and judging some 150 books and wrangling during innumerable meetings during the course of the process is a lot of work) that goes on in the background. The announcement that Baroness Lola Young will chair the 2017 panel is, therefore, a significant one. Her background as a writer, critic, teacher of cultural studies and board member of such institutions as the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre means she's more than qualified. She will be the Man Booker's ninth female chair (the first was Fay Weldon in 1983) and makes history too – and reflects the inclusive nature of the prize – in being the first black chair in the prize's history. Who her fellow judges will be will be announced soon. 

The last two Man Booker wins, for Marlon James and Paul Beatty, and the composition of recent shortlists, has shunted the topic of small publishers into the limelight. Both James and Beatty are published by the small independent Oneworld, while one of this year's shortlistees, Graeme Macrae Burnet, is published by Contraband and Wyl Menmuir, a longlistee, by Salt. An interesting recent piece in the Guardian suggested that it is the independents who are taking the risks with fiction and the big publishers who then pick up the authors once their names have become known. One example is Eimear McBride, who won the Bailey's Prize when published by the minute Galley Beggar Press and moved to Hogarth, part of the Penguin-Random House group for her second novel. So it will be interesting to see if the likes of Beatty, Burnet and Menmuir stay with their current publishers and help small presses grow into bigger ones or get snapped up by richer operations.

The city of Hobart in Tasmania has been considering whether to bid to become UNESCO's International City of Literature and join such scribbler-friendly places as Dublin, Barcelona and Prague. So what are Hobart's claims to literary pre-eminence? A large part of the civic fathers' pitch will, it seems, be based on the fact that Richard Flanagan, Man Booker winner in 2014 with The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a Tasmanian.

Want to see what an Man Booker winner's home looks like? The New York Times visited Marlon James recently and took pictures of his Minneapolis loft apartment. James's décor shows a quirky sense of style – posters by Francis Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein jostle with images of Grace Jones and Miles Davis. Well-stocked and eclectic bookshelves (he has three libraries) are offset by curiosities such as a lurid red sculpture of a gymnast: asked if it was by an artist he collects, James responded disarmingly, ‘No, we’re not talking about something classy here. There’s a store in Minneapolis, Go Home Furnishings. They sell fun, wacky, ridiculous things. But a room needs to have one piece of kitsch or whimsy that you can laugh at.’