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The Booker Prize: five things to know

Monday October 14 2019

US author George Saunders posing with his book 'Lincoln in the Bardo Man Booker Prize

US author George Saunders posing with his book 'Lincoln in the Bardo' during a photocall at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He was declared winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize. AFP PHOTO | CHRIS J RATCLIFFE 

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The 50-year-old Booker Prize for English-language fiction is among the world's most prestigious literary awards, handed out annually and promising a major boost for winning authors.

Here is some background ahead of the announcement of this year's winner on October 14:

The prize was launched in 1969 with sponsorship from leading British grocery wholesaler, Booker.

British publishers, seeking to match France's venerable Goncourt award, approached Booker chairman Jock Campbell for funding because of his known interest in literature.

It was renamed The Man Booker Prize in 2002 when the Man Group hedge fund took over sponsorship.

In 2019 it reverted to its original name when US charity Crankstart Foundation, founded by Silicon Valley-based billionaires, became the funder.

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The prize is for a work of fiction originally written in English and published in Britain or Ireland.

The winner, announced every October, takes home £50,000 (about $65,000, 57,000 euros). Each shortlisted author also receives £2,500.

While well below the roughly $930,000 for the Nobel Prize for Literature, the purse tops that of other top literary awards such as the Pulitzer Prize ($15,000).

France's Goncourt offers a symbolic 10 euros ($10) but promises a boost in sales that should make the selected work a bestseller.

The Booker winner, too, "is guaranteed international recognition and a huge increase in sales", its site says.

A Booker committee selects a new panel of around five judges every year, most often personalities from the literary world such as writers, critics and publishers.

They have several months to go through scores of books to settle on a longlist of around a dozen. This is whittled down to a shortlist and then a single winner.

For this year's award, for example, 151 books were submitted from which the jury agreed on a longlist of 13 and then a shortlist of six.

In 2016 a separate award was introduced for a work of fiction translated into English and published in Britain or Ireland.

The £50,000 prize for the International Booker, announced annually in May, is divided between the author and translator.

There was consternation in Britain when the main Booker prize was opened to US writers in 2014, having been reserved to authors from Britain, Ireland, Commonwealth countries and Zimbabwe.

The "dice are now loaded against UK authors in sheer weight of numbers in the US," 2011 Booker judge Susan Hill told The Guardian in 2016.

The award had become "an exercise in global corporate branding", two-time winner Peter Carey complained in 2017.

The selection of contenders has been criticised as random, there are sometimes clashes within the jury, while the choice of winner can be controversial.

The winners are not always happy either. In his acceptance speech, 1972 winner John Berger said the competitiveness of the award was "distasteful".

He donated half his prize to the Black Panther Movement in protest at exploitation of the Caribbean by trading companies such as the Booker's founding sponsor.

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