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History of The Booker Prize

Ion Trewin, who was Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation from 2006 until his death in April 2015, discussed the Man Booker Prize in 2013.

‘From the very beginning of what was originally called the Booker Prize there was just one criterion - the prize would be for “the best novel in the opinion of the judges”. And 45 years later that is still a key sentence in the rules.

‘It is a measure of the quality of the original drafting that the main ambitions of the prize have not changed. The aim was to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract “the intelligent general audience”. The press release announcing the prize elaborated on this: “The real success will be a significant increase in the sales of the winning book... that will to some extent be shared not only by the authors who have been shortlisted, but, in the long run, by authors all over the country.”

‘Our judges are not confined to any in-group of literary critics, authors and academics, but over the years have included poets, politicians, journalists, broadcasters and actors. This “common man” approach to the selection of Man Booker juries is, I believe, one of the key reasons why “the intelligent general audience” trusts the prize.

‘I believe I can say this having one way and another been involved in the inner workings of the prize for all but its earliest years. I chaired the jury in 1974 – its sixth year – when the prize was shared between The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer and Holiday by Stanley Middleton. (It needs to be emphasised that the prize is awarded to a particular book rather than to an author.) Eight years later I edited Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally – still the prize’s bestselling winner with some two million copies sold in its UK editions. And more recently I have been increasingly involved in the prize’s administration, eventually taking over as Literary Director in 2005.

‘Although the “significant interest in sales” took a decade to happen, the roll call of winners and the idea of publishing both a longlist and a shortlist – original concepts when they became part of the prize process, and now widely adopted by prizes generally – have contributed to its success. Which is why the Man Booker has become influential beyond the wildest dreams of its founding fathers.’

The Booker Prizes

The prize, which launched in 1969, aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written in English and published in the United Kingdom.

To maintain the consistent excellence of The Booker Prize, judges are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.

The winner of The Booker Prize receives £50,000 and, like all the shortlisted authors, a cheque for £2,500 and a designer bound copy of their book. Fulfilling one of the objectives of the prize - to encourage the widest possible readership for the best in literary fiction - the winner and the shortlisted authors now enjoy a dramatic increase in book sales worldwide.

Previous winners of The Booker Prize can be viewed in the Backlist.

For more information on The Booker Prize, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.