The Booker Prize trophy: the story behind our distinctive statuette
The creator of children’s classics Meg and Mog, and Haunted House, Jan Pieńkowski also designed the Booker Prize trophy. Here is story behind the statuette.
The trophy’s new name honours 1978 Booker winner Iris Murdoch, who was nominated for the prize seven times
The public has voted: the Booker Prize trophy will be named Iris, after novelist Dame Iris Murdoch DBE, who was nominated for the prize seven times and won it in 1978 for The Sea, The Sea.
The trophy is a recreation of the original Booker Prize statuette, which was designed by the award-winning children’s book illustrator Jan Pieńkowski and first awarded to author P.H. Newby in 1969. The design was inspired by an art deco lamp Pieńkowski found in Portobello Market, London. Following Pieńkowski death in February 2022, the trophy was reinstated for last year’s Booker Prize.
In January 2023, the Booker Prize Foundation launched a competition via its website, inviting readers to help name the trophy. Over 800 people suggested names, which included authors past and present, ancient goddesses and muses.
From those suggestions, a panel of judges chose what they felt were the best six names. The panel consisted of Shehan Karunatilaka, winner of the Booker Prize 2022 for his novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almedia; Margaret Busby, Britain’s first Black female publisher and Chair of the Booker Prize 2020 judges; Gabriel Schenk, grandson of P.H. Newby; David Walser, partner and collaborator of the late Jan Pieńkowski; and Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation.
The shortlisted names were Bernie, Beryl, Iris, Minerva, Janina and Calliope. Thousands of people from around the world then voted in a poll on the Booker Prizes website.
The name Bernie – after Bernardine Evaristo, the first Black woman to win the prize, in 2019; as well as being a reference to Bernice Rubens, the first woman to win the prize, in 1970 – received the most public votes. However, while ‘surprised and flattered’ that her name won the poll, Bernardine Evaristo felt it would be more appropriate to pay tribute to one of the great writers from the Booker’s past instead. The Booker Prize Foundation respects Bernardine’s wishes and has decided that the name with the second-highest number of votes, Iris, will now be the name of the trophy.
Bernardine Evaristo said:
‘I’m surprised and flattered that the name Bernie was nominated by readers in the Booker Prizes’ trophy competition and that it received the most votes in the public poll, in recognition of both Bernice Rubens, the first woman to win the Booker, and myself. But as the only living author on the list, I feel it would be more fitting for the honour to go to a writer who is no longer with us. It’s wonderful to see that it will be named after the great Iris Murdoch instead.’
The Iris Murdoch Society said:
‘We are thrilled that the reading public have chosen “Iris” as the name for the Booker Prize Trophy. Iris Murdoch had a lifelong belief in the value of literature to society, and throughout her life she championed the work of writers and artists. “Literature,” she said, “satisfies our curiosity and interests us in other people and other scenes and helps us to be tolerant and generous.” The Booker Prize embodies all these values and she would be greatly honoured for her name to be associated with it.’
The winner of the competition has won a Montegrappa Zero fountain pen, worth over £600, and a Folio Society edition of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
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Please find images of the trophy, the judges and Booker Prize logos here.
Dame Jean Iris Murdoch DBE wrote 26 novels, winning the Booker Prize in 1978 for The Sea, the Sea. In Murdoch’s 19th novel, Charles Arrowby, leading light of England’s theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor, and to amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he has strung along for many years. But his plans fail, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of strange events and unexpected visitors - some real, some spectral - that disrupt his world and shake his oversized ego to its very core.
Five more of Murdoch’s novels were shortlisted for the Booker Prize: The Nice and the Good (1969); Bruno’s Dream (1970); The Black Prince (1973); The Good Apprentice (1985); The Book and the Brotherhood (1987). A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970) was longlisted for the Lost Man Booker in 2010.
The Booker Prize – awarded annually in the autumn – is the leading literary award in the English-speaking world. It was first awarded in 1969 and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades. It was called the Man Booker Prize for Fiction when sponsored by Man Group from 2002-2018. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best work of long-form fiction written in English and published in the UK and Ireland, irrespective of the nationality or citizenship of the author. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. Both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a global readership and can expect a dramatic increase in book sales. The winner of the Booker Prize 2022 was The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. The Booker Prize 2023 judging panel is chaired by Esi Edugyan and is completed by Adjoa Andoh, Mary Jean Chan, James Shapiro and Robert Webb. The longlist will be announced in July 2023.
The International Booker Prize – awarded annually in spring – is for the best single work of fiction translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland. It was known until 2019 as the Man Booker International Prize when sponsored by Man Group. The winner’s prize purse is £50,000; £25,000 for the author and £25,000 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators). There is a prize of £5,000 for each of the shortlisted titles: £2,500 for the author and £2,500 for the translator (or divided equally between multiple translators). The winner of the International Booker Prize 2022 was Tomb of Sand, written by Geetanjali Shree and translated by Daisy Rockwell. The International Booker Prize 2023 judging panel is chaired by Leïla Slimani, who is accompanied by Uilleam Blacker, Tan Twan Eng, Parul Sehgal and Frederick Studemann. The longlist for the International Booker Prize 2023 was announced on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. The shortlist announcement will follow on Tuesday, April 18 at the London Book Fair, and the winner at a ceremony held at the Sky Garden in London on May 23, 2023. The full list of longlisted titles can be found here.
Please visit the Notes to Editors page on the Booker Prizes website to find out more about the Booker Prize, the International Booker Prize, and the Booker Prize Foundation, including its trustees, advisory committee, partners and beneficiaries.
The original statuette was pewter-coloured and inspired by an art deco lamp Jan Pieńkowski found in a junk shop in Portobello Market. It was first awarded to P.H. Newby in 1969, whose wife disliked the colour and spray painted the trophy gold.
In 2022, P.H. Newby’s original trophy was tracked down, scanned and 3D-printed by Adam Lowe’s Madrid-based Factum Foundation, a not-for-profit that uses cutting-edge photogrammetry technology to preserve or recreate culturally significant historic works. The new trophy stands 38cm high and is cast in brass.