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Evolution of the Man Booker International Prize announced

Evolution of the Man Booker International Prize announced

As the Man Booker Prize closes in on its fiftieth year, things look rather different than they did when the prize was founded back in 1969. Then it was the simple Booker Prize and no one had any idea of how it would go on to become one of the pre-eminent prizes in the literary world and be the catalyst for a host of other bookish initiatives. The original prize has shown the way for a host of other book prizes and spawned a series of initiatives of its own such as the Booker of Bookers (won in 1993 by Salman Rushdie for Midnight's Children), the Best of the Booker in 2008 (ditto Rushdie), the Lost Man Booker in 2010 (J.G. Farrell for The Troubles) and in 2011 the Man Booker Best of Beryl celebrating the work of the perennial Man Booker bridesmaid Beryl Bainbridge. The most significant of all, however, was the inauguration in 2005 of the Man Booker International Prize.

This biennial prize for works from anywhere in the world published in English was most recently awarded to the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai. He keeps distinguished company, with Ismail Kadaré, Chinua Achebe, Alice Munro, Philip Roth and Lydia Davis. The 2015 prize having been given it is now the Man Booker International Prize's turn to evolve. From 2016 the prize will come into line with its English-language parent and close the circle. Just as the Man Booker is now awarded to a single book written in English anywhere in the world and published in Great Britain so the new Man Booker International Prize will follow the same format for a book written in a foreign language and translated into English.

The Man Booker International will become annual, its year culminating in a longlist announcement in March, the shortlist following in April and the winner announced in May (the MB's climaxing dates are in July, September and October). Like the MB the new-look prize will be for a single book rather than a body of work and submissions too will be from publishers rather than emanating from the judges and the e-Council. The new panel will also have five judges and be worth £50,000 to the winner (to be shared with the translator). As a result of this rationalisation both prizes will now if not sing from the same hymn sheet then certainly write from the same page. Between them the two prizes will reward the best books published anywhere on the globe, in any language, as long as they have a publisher in Britain regardless of where they were first published.

As part of the initiative the MBI is joining forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize which was founded in 1990 and has celebrated writers of the calibre of Orhan Pamuk, Milan Kundera and W.G. Sebald. The eminence grise of that prize, Boyd Tonkin (coincidentally a Man Booker judge in 1999), will chair the new prize.

So why the change? What the MBI Prize has highlighted is the paucity of foreign books available in the English speaking nations – known as “the three per cent problem”  because only three per cent of the titles published each year in the UK and America are translations from a foreign tongue (of which fiction accounts for just one per cent). Both sides miss out: readers are not getting the chance to discover great writers and those writers are not getting the readership they deserve. The excitement of finding a writer of the quality of, say, Krasznahorkai and Kadaré (the only two MBI winners not to write in English) is immeasurable and the new MBI seeks not just to reward individual authors but to encourage an ecology of translation in which publishers are emboldened to cast their nets outside the familiar waters of English-language fiction where there are rare and fabulous creatures who should be brought in. Of course several publishers have for some time been working with foreign writers but they are in the minority. The MBI hopes to push this innovation to the tipping point and beyond so that what is currently non-standard becomes the norm.

Books, and fiction in particular, no more stand still than any other area of life, and nor should prizes. The world is now global rather than national or regional and the two Man Booker Prizes are now perfectly placed to scour every inch of it for the best writing from anyone and anywhere. 

Click here to read the rules of the new Man Booker International Prize. The 2016 prize will be open for entries from 9 July 2015.