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What is the Booker Prize?

Kathy Hawkins
Kathy Hawkins

The Man Booker Prize, which is commonly known as the Booker Prize, is a literary prize that is awarded annually to a work of literature in the English language from a writer from Ireland or the British Commonwealth that is determined to be the best work of the year. It is an extremely prestigious honor to win the Booker Prize. The winner of the award is also given 50,000 pounds, or approximately $100,000 US dollars.

The Booker Prize was established in 1968, when publisher Tom Maschler approached the Booker Brothers publishing house about the establishment of a literary prize. As a result of the meeting, the Booker Prize for Fiction was established, and has been awarded every year since then. Since that time, the Booker family has established two additional literary prizes: the Booker Russian Novel Prize, and the Caine Prize for African Writing.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

To choose books that will be considered for the Booker Prize, publishers in the United Kingdom are permitted to submit two novels each year for the judges' consideration, and may submit an additional five book names. Out of all the books and titles suggested, the judges for the Booker Prize will create a "longlist" of between eight and twelve books, after narrowing the list down. Judges for the Booker Prize are required to read all books that have been submitted for consideration. The Booker Prize judges are generally acclaimed authors themselves; the 2007 Booker Prize judges included writers Nadine Gordimer and Colm Toibin.

After this point, each judge will choose the novel that he or she feels is the best out of the selection. These books will become the "shortlist," and the authors will receive 2,500 pounds, or around $5,000 US Dollars. Being short-listed for a Booker Prize is a prestigious honor in and of itself.

Having a novel named as the winner of the Booker Prize can be great promotion for an author. The book gains instant respect and greater readership; many books that have been awarded the Booker Prize have subsequently been made into films as well. Some recent winners of the Booker Prize are Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, Yann Martel's The Life of Pi, and Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss.

The Booker Prize has only recently begun to accept American writers as candidates for the prize; until recently, it was only open to Britain and members of the Commonwealth, such as Australia and Canada. Especially now that the reach of the prize has been expanded, it could be one of the most significant literary awards in the world.

Discussion Comments


I have always been confused with how the Booker prize works. Is it limited to just British authors or can any author writing in any genre from any location be considered for the prize?

The confusion comes from the fact that British authors seem to win the prize a lot but not always. Margaret Atwood, for instance, is from Canada.


One of my favorite British authors is Nicola Barker. She has been Booker prize shortlisted on a few occasions and I am positive that she is going to win it eventually.

Her books are getting better and better and her output is prodigious. I think she is still under forty and she has over half a dozen books, many of them door stoppingly long. She will win it eventually.


I have always been impressed with the consistency of the Booker prize. Every year I typically read the book that wins the Pulitzer, the book that receives the National Book Award and the book that receives the Booker.

In the case of the two American awards I have been disappointed on more than a few occasions. There was a string of almost four years when I didn't care for any of the Pulitzer winners. But the Booker prize very rarely fails to disappoint.

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