You are here

The great prize money giveaway

The great prize money giveaway

It has been a 44 years since John Berger gave his prize money for winning the 1972 Booker Prize (as it then was) to the Black Panther movement. Winners since then have habitually spent the money on less politically active things such as having their shoes resoled (Anita Brookner), buying new curtains (Kingsley Amis), or building a swimming-pool (A.S. Byatt). However, on winning the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (the old Samuel Johnson Prize) for his history of crimes against humanity East West Street, Philippe Sands rolled back the years. Not only did he 'share' the honour of the prize itself with his fellow nominee Hisham Matar (himself a Man Booker shortlistee in 2006) but he donated his £30,000 winnings – minus a bottle of cognac for Matar and a jar of pickles (yes, seriously) for himself – to a refugee charity. The generous gesture prompted the good folk at the investment management company of Baillie Gifford to match his largesse out of their own pockets. What might have sent a shiver down the spines of future prize judges though is that Stephanie Flanders, chair of the judging panel, donated her honorarium too. In this year of seismic changes one wonders if the time-honoured codes of judging panels are about to shift too.

The publishing world has been put on notice. In an interview with Juliet Mabey and Novin Doostdar, the husband and wife team who founded and run Oneworld – the publishers behind the last two Man Booker winners, Marlon James and Paul Beatty – Mabey set her sights on the Man Booker International Prize. 'Translated fiction makes absolute sense, because if you limit yourself to the English language you cannot express the different views of people all over the world, and the diversity,' she said. 'For us it’s not a question of how do we publish more diversely, it’s that we’re looking for diversity all the time . . . It’s possible agents and booksellers don’t see the world the way we do, but I hope that’ll change.' It would be a mug to bet against them since Oneworld's formula of publishing books that 'have something important to say, but not in a worthy way' has been pretty successful so far. Today the English speaking literary scene, tomorrow the world.

If publishers such as Oneworld can become a brand, known for producing a certain type of book, then so too can authors – at least according to Man Booker head girl Hilary Mantel. She was visiting Kenyon College in Ohio recently where she gave a keynote speech. She had assumed, she said, that she was a person first and then a writer, but no, with the success of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, her publisher declared that 'Hilary Mantel was a brand.' 'Am I complaining?' asked Mantel of her audience. 'No.'

Race is the central theme of Paul Beatty's The Sellout and so race is a topic he is endlessly asked about. It is not a subject though that fits neatly into a box, as his answers to recent questions reveal. His responses in one interview ranged from the grand (and slightly gnomic) 'Being black is a full-time job: sometimes you are invisible, other times you are hyper-visible, sometimes you are welcome, other times you are not' to something rather lighter in tone when asked if he'd prefer to be described as African-American or black: 'Tall. Just say I’m tall, that works for me.'