Man Booker Prize

Should US authors be eligible for the Man Booker Prize?

December 13th, 2016 by shaunna_whitters | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Should US authors be eligible for the Man Booker Prize?
Tags: , , , , , ,

Since the announcement in October that Paul Beatty had won the Man Booker prize 2016 there has been an influx of support from across the country. After all, he is the first American to win the award and the recognition ‘The Sellout’ has received is more than well deserved. However, in the last week several UK authors have voiced their concern over the eligibility of American authors to win the award.

The award was opened to authors across the world in September 2013 on the condition that their work is in English and is published in the UK. However, Man Booker prize winner 2011 Julian Barnes led the attack on the award claiming authors in the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth had lost a ‘valuable opportunity to make a name for themselves’ despite this being the first year someone out with the UK has won the award.

There has been a great deal of support for Barnes with fellow authors uniting in protest. There have been claims that there are enough literary awards across the pond and that there are by far more opportunities for creative writing in the US than in the UK. Also, the prestigious award, which was once exclusive to only the British, was one of few that remained without competition from American authors. Now there is a strong feeling amongst authors that it is now more difficult than ever to gain the recognition necessary to win any award.

So UK authors are feeling hard done by but is there enough reason to react this way?

In a way, yes. There are too few literary awards in the UK and now authors are dealing with more competition in winning one of the most prestigious awards by facing authors who have perhaps had more guidance or development in writing a novel. However, the award is specifically for English language works which has been published by a UK publisher – not a US extension or parent company – so as long as the book follows these specifications then why shouldn’t it be eligible?

One example is if an American born author spent half of their life in the UK and wrote a book which was published by Black and White Publishing –  should they be exempt from the award simply because they were born in America?

It may seem pedantic but if the book is published by a UK publisher and is in English then, in my opinion, there shouldn’t be any complaints. We’re at a point in publishing where at least once a day someone will say ‘print is dead’ so perhaps this is an opportunity to create more competition and demand UK authors to write more and better.

In the three years since the rule changed this is the first year someone outside the UK has won the award and the long list included six British authors so there is still recognition for UK authors. Regardless of the outcome of the outcry from authors perhaps this is also an opportunity to look at the number of literary awards available in the UK and build on that.

The Man Booker Prize 2016

October 28th, 2016 by Aleksander Pęciak | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The Man Booker Prize 2016
Tags: , , , , ,

The Man Booker Prize logoWho would have ever thought that one of the most prestigious British book awards may be given according to one, simple criteria: “the best novel in the opinion of the judges”? The uniqueness of the Man Booker Prize lies also in the jury which is not (as someone would predict) contained only of literary critics or professors of literature – but also readers reflecting multiple backgrounds: politicians, actors or journalists. Honesty and simplicity that is expressed in this prize seem convincing even for me, a rebel always skeptical to the tastes of highly regarded authorities. And it must mean something.

The general idea behind the prize is to encourage readers to read the winning book – and a true success of it can be measured by the increase of its sales. Every year since 1969 winners are granted with £50,000 for their books published in The United Kingdom, which makes it one of the richest prizes in the world. In addition to the main prize since 2005 there has been the International Man Booker Prize awarded to those whose work’s translations appeared in English. The money are shared between the international author and the translator of the book. The winner of the International Man Booker Prize was announced earlier this year – “The Vegetarian” by Korean author Han Kang, a story about woman embracing her idea of living “plant-like” existence, translated by Deborah Smith, a founder of non-for-profit Tilted Axis Press.

In 2016 we can be sure that satire is still alive. On 25th of October Paul Beatty became the first American winner of The Man Booker Prize. Two years ago the prize changed its rules and opened to authors from outside the Commonwealth, what makes his winning even more significant. His winning book, “The Sellout”, “takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and snarl”, and is, as described by judges, “a novel for our times”. Parodying racial stereotypes, Beatty presents the story of Bonbon, African-American living in Dickens, Los Angeles, and his struggles with accusation of reintroducing slavery and segregation in a local high school. The author has received the trophy from the hands of the Duchess of Cornwall. A victory of Paul Beatty is also a victory of small and independent trade publisher – Oneworld. Based in London and active since 1986, Oneworld presents novels advertised as “intelligent, challenging and distinctive”. I could not imagine better gift for the year of their 30th anniversary.

The Man Booker Prize for Paul Beatty is also a great disappointment for the raised hopes for Graham Macrae Burnet’s “His Bloody Project” published by Contraband, the crime imprint of Saraband. It was the bestselling novel on the shortlist and had the best recognition amongst its rivals. A Man Booker Prize would be the true icing on the cake – “His Bloody Project” translation rights in six countries as well as film and TV adaptation permissions were sold. The publisher is struggling now to meet the demands for the books.

But in the terms of the mission of the prize, we can easily say that it is completed – sales for all the nominated books has risen, which proves its real impact on the readership and readers’ choices.

Of The Famished Road and Literary Dreams — Ben Okri at University of Stirling

October 25th, 2016 by Otieno Owino | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Of The Famished Road and Literary Dreams — Ben Okri at University of Stirling
Tags: , , , , ,
Photography by Whyler Photos of Stirling -

Ben Okri in conversation with Liam Bell. Photo: University of Stirling/Jim Mailer

When Ben Okri walks into Logie lecture theatre, it’s the black beret I see first, ever present in photos of him. It makes me feel as if I have been in his company before; that same sensation you have when you meet someone popular, like a TV personality. A hush falls over the warmly lit, intimate space, as if Azaro, the narrator of The Famished Road, has cast a spell on the students and staff seated in a neat semi-circle.

It’s Tuesday 11th October 2016, the University of Stirling is hosting Nigerian novelist and Booker Prize winner Ben Okri on the 25th anniversary of the publication of his acclaimed novel, The Famished Road.  To mark this, the Booker Prize Foundation’s Universities Initiative has made available 1400 copies of the book to all first years; a number that I will later learn is symbolic.

Soon after, Prof Malcolm McLeod, Deputy Principal and Director of the Institute of Aquaculture gives the introductions, expressing gratitude to the Booker Prize Foundation and laying down Okri’s prolific writing career spanning over three decades with eight novels, collections of poetry and essays along the way.

Taking the stage, in conversation with Creative Writing Lecturer Liam Bell, it doesn’t take long for the audience to be transported by the magic of Okri’s insight.

“In Africa, everything is a story, everything is a repository of stories. Spiders, the wind, a leaf, a tree, the moon, silence, a glance, a mysterious old man, an owl at midnight, a sign …” he begins, reading an excerpt from A Way of Being Free. Then he jumps to another page.

I have always known this, have always experienced it back home in Kenya, in everyday life, in conversations on the daily commute, and in the stories of my grandmother. But this still strikes me as profound.

“Unhappy lands prefer utopian stories. Happy lands prefer unhappy stories,” he continues.

The conversation picks up from there, taking usual trajectory of literary conversations: Craft, process, editing oneself, writing and rewriting, the need to toil and discipline oneself in the act of creation.


Then it moves seamlessly to the magic of The Famished Road.

Published when Ben Okri was only 32, the book that would catapult him to worldwide fame is his third. He says it was several years of hard work, in which he had ‘dialogues of form’.

Pausing as if reaching for the right words, holding the tome in his hands, turning it from one palm to another he says, “I was in all kinds of states when I wrote this book. It was frightening writing it, working with logic that is not usual.”

And on the tone, which is at times playful, at times frightening and at times painful, he says, “I wanted a coalition of suffering and laughter and happiness, and to give a voice to the richness of African reality.”

But why can’t Azaro take off, go back to the land where he came from? The land in which he and other spirit children ‘floated on the aquamarine air of love’? Okri says: “That’s the miracle of the paradox of life.”

Perhaps that is why the Booker Prize committee of 1991 thought The Famished Road was the best novel of that year: the transcendental nature and fullness of its experience. Something that he’s felt more African writers need to embrace for their writing to achieve greatness

Okri says the book had sold about 2000 copies before the Booker came along, and looks over to his editor for confirmation. He’s told, no, not really. Only 1400 copies. The audience roars with laughter. And it strikes me that Ben and his editor have a rare relationship; one that has lasted for over 25 years and is still going. Editors and writers can, in fact, be lifelong friends.

Of the pressure that came with prize, the most difficult was shutting out the achievement and staring at a new blank page. Writing new stories, because that is the life of the writer. Okri winning the Booker opened up UK publishing for other black and ethnic minority writers, even though diversity is yet to be achieved according to a report by Spread the Word.

In the Q&A that followed, he amuses us by saying he writes while standing. And then it’s the end, the room empties, and Ben Okri signs books for audience members.

Like the last line in The Famished Road, ‘A dream can be the highest point in life.’ This feels like one.

Photography by Whyler Photos of Stirling -

Ben Okri chats with a student as he signs her book. Photo: University of Stirling/Jim Mailer


 By Otieno Owino

DBC Pierre – Vernon God Little

December 2nd, 2011 by Emma_Dunn | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on DBC Pierre – Vernon God Little
Tags: , ,

On the 14th November DBC Pierre came to speak at the university about his Man Booker prize winning novel Vernon God Little. This event was organised as part of the Booker Prize Foundation; whose aim is to promote high quality fiction and encourage debate among students. Stirling was one of just five universities in the country selected to take part in the initiative.

Vernon God Little won the Man Booker prize in 2003 and has been described as ‘original, engaging and fantastically well constructed’ by Sarah Waters from the Daily Telegraph’s Books of the Year.

The novel is told from the point of view of Vernon Gregory Little who is accused of a high school massacre which killed sixteen students. As the blame increasingly falls on him his plan is to run away to Mexico.

DBC Pierre was born in Australia before moving to Mexico where he spent most of his later childhood years. He would often travel across the border to the US where he saw ‘the same divides applied to the richest country on earth.’ He was inspired to write the novel after seeing an American teenager on TV, being put into a police car after a potential high school shooting. It made him feel angry about our culture and society and made him question if this ‘kid’ could really be fully responsible.  For Vernon God Little his starting point was ‘what kind of fucking life is this?’ He used his experiences as a teenager in Mexico; growing up at a time when the US still seemed innocent and how children with guns shattered this illusion.

During the talk DBC Pierre read a short extract from his book in a slow South American drawl and then opened up the floor for questions.  Are we supposed to believe everything Vernon says? Yes, he is writing from the point of view of most teenagers where the world is black and white, either fantastic or dire, there is no in between. Growing up in a media saturated society, fed on Jerry Springer and Oprah – Vernon is a product of his society. When thinking about the voice we must be mindful that Vernon is an adolescent – parents are the enemies, or at that age they should be.

In terms of how he constructs a plot; his method is to make a huge meticulous plan which he lays out in an Excel spreadsheet, with carefully constructed sub-plots, and then goes away and does something completely different. He ‘jumps in the deep end and tries not to drown.’ His advice to writers is to write without structure, without proper spelling and grammar even, to just write in all kinds of moods and frames of mind, and even though most it will have to be edited out, there will be something there to work with. It is easier to edit than to write great things first time round – ‘go in and do carpentry.’ And whatever you do, do not show a first draft to anyone. Does he feel he has become a writer since winning the Man Booker? DBC Pierre left this open to debate proclaiming ‘you learn to write the book you are writing – it doesn’t mean that you have learnt to write.’