‘Man Booker 50’ Celebration Features Stars, Commentary, Workshops

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Workshops and masterclasses are part of the plan for events in July’s three-day ‘Man Booker 50’ celebration of a half-century of Man Booker Prize for Fiction awards. Tickets now are on sale.

Shortlisted authors of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction were onstage on the eve of the prize’s announcement for readings at London’s Southbank Centre. Image: Man Booker Prize Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Eighteen Discussions and Panels
Among many volleys of news released during the London Book Fair was the announcement of the Man Booker Foundation‘s program for its much-anticipated 50th anniversary celebrations of the Prize for Fiction.

Those celebrations are scheduled for July 6 through 8 and are concentrated at London’s Southbank Centre. Sparkling with the pantheon of literary luminaries that only the Man Booker can bring to bear on the moment, the program features more than 60 speakers including 15 winners of the prize, among them Kazuo Ishiguro (1989) and Paul Beatty (2016). There are events planned for the full range of the Southbank complex, from Royal Festival Hall to the Queen Elizabeth and Purcell venues.

Tickets are on sale now, and information can be had at the program’s page at the Southbank’s website. The program combines not only great writers on parade but also interactive opportunities for those attending, in sessions with varying prices from top tickets of £40 (US$57) in many cases to a low of £10 (US$14) and a few instances in which events are free of charge. There are plans for broadcasts, too, from BBC Four,  BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking, and BBC World Book Club.

The closing event of the three-day festival is a “Golden Man Booker Live” program in Royal Festival Hall, at which the five jurors each assigned a single decade of Man Booker winners is to announce the best book of her or his ten-year set of winners. More on the process of this competition has been reported by Publishing Perspectives here.

From left, five past winners of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction taking part in ‘Man Booker 50’ events are Penelope Lively; Alan Hollinghurst (image by Robert Taylor); Pat Barker (by Justine Stoddard); Howard Jacobson (by Jenny Jacobson); and Eleanor Catton (by Victoria Birkinshaw)

‘Rewriting the Past’ and ‘Genre Benders’

Among the onstage conversations and presentations most looked forward to will be:

  • Hilary Mantel (2012, Bring Up the Bodies, and 2009, Wolf Hall) and Pat Barker (1995, The Ghost Road) in an exchange called “Rewriting the Past.” It’s the opening event (July 6) in the sequence in Queen Elizabeth Hall with BBC’s James Naughtie
  • Howard Jacobson (2010, The Finkler Question) in a lecture on “Why the Novel Matters”
  • Alan Hollinghurst (2004, The Line of Beauty) and Marlon James (2015, A Brief History of Seven Killings), speaking with BBC’s Rebecca Jones on “Hidden Histories”
  • Mantel again, this time in the Purcell Room with the BBC’s Harriett Gilbert
  • Eleanor Catton (2013, The Luminaries), Christopher Hampton, Elizabeth Karlsen, and Colm Tóibín (2013, The Testament of Mary)  with Francine Stock on “From Page to Screen,” a critically important discussion in literary circles in today’s screen-heavy media environment
  • Anne Enright (2007, The Gathering) and Penelope Lively (1987, Moon Tiger) with the BBC’s Martha Kearney on “Sex, Love, and Families”
  • Ben Okri (1991, The Famished Road) speaking on “How To Read Like a Writer”
  • Kiran Desai (2006, The Inheritance of Loss) and Anita Desai, three times shortlisted) talking with Naughtie about “Writing Across Generations”
  • A screening of The English Patient (the late Anthony Minghella’s film, 1997) followed by a Q&A between author Michael Ondaatje (1992, The English Patient) with Stock
  • David Grossman (2017 A Horse Walks Into a Bar–winner of the Man Booker International, not the Prize for Fiction) in a talk with Natalie Haynes. Unfortunately, the book’s translator, Jessica Cohen, is not listed as being involved. (The Man Booker International Prize admirably awards both author and translator equally.)
  • Peter Carey (1988, Oscar and Lucinda, and 2001, True History of the Kelly Gang) and Julian Barnes (2011, The Sense of An Ending) with critic Alex Clark
  • Paul Beatty (2016, The Sellout), Catton, Deborah Levy & Graeme Macrae Burnet, talking about “Genre Benders” with Southbank’s Ted Hodgkinson
  • Tóibín and Rachel Whiteread, who worked together on Testament, with Wendy Jones on “The Art of Collaboration”
  • Ishiguro (1989, Remains of the Day) and Ondaatje in “An Unmediated Conversation”
  • Andrew O’Hagan, Kamila Shamsie, and DBC Pierre (2003, Vernon God Little) with the Booker Foundation’s Gaby Wood on “The Connected World”
  • Roddie Doyle (1993, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) with Beatty on the question of why so few comic novels have won the Man Booker Prize
  • Enright, Grossman, and James with Bidisha on “The Future of the Novel”

In addition, there are workshops and masterclasses, each priced at £20 (US$28), planned to include. Sessions feature panels on finding an agent (with Clare Conville, Emma Paterson, and DBC Pierre), getting published (with Clare Alexander, Sharmaine Lovegrove, Juliet Mabey, John Mitchinson) and editing (with Catton, Sam Copeland, and Sally Orson-Jones). Also planned are:

  • Okri on “The Creative Spark”
  • Catton on “The First Page”
  • Shamsie on “Setting the Scene”
  • Burnet on “Using Your Research”

The program is curated by festival director Mary Sackville-West.

From left, more Man Booker Prize for Fiction laureates participating in ‘Man Booker 50’ programming are Kiran Desai; Ben Okri; Kazuo Ishiguro (image by Jeff Cottenden); Anne Enright; and Marlon James (by Jeffrey Skemp)

‘Fierce, Playful, Radical, Reflective’

In a prepared statement, Booker Prize Foundation chair Helena Kennedy is quoted saying, “The Man Booker Prize has celebrated the defining novels and authors of our times … [This] one-off program will acknowledge the prize’s past, present and future, celebrating the last 50 years of authors, looking ahead to the new voices of the literary stage and recognizing the power of the art form. If the next 50 years is as fierce, playful, radical and reflective as the last, I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

And industry readers will be interested to learn that after George Saunders won last year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction, as reported by Publishing Perspectives for Lincoln in the Bardo, the UK’s Bloomsbury issued “an immediate reprint of 100,000 copies. In the week following the 2017 announcement, sales of the book increased 1,227 percent. The 50th anniversary program will be celebrating not only the value of the work and its authors but also the value on the prize in its ability to bring that work to the consumers’ attention.

As regular readers of Publishing Perspectives know, the 50th anniversary falls amid loud objection from some parts of the industry over the award’s “evolved” policy, implemented in 2014, that allows writers “of any nationality, regardless of geography, to enter the prize providing that they are writing in English and published in the UK.”

While the foundation’s trustees have clarified that “The rule was not created specifically to include American writers,” the fact that the last two years’ prizes have gone to US writers has become an issue of contention in the UK’s literary industry and community.

Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner George Saunders meets readers in London at a book signing. Image: Man Booker Prize Foundation


More from Publishing Perspectives on programs of the Man Booker Foundation’s prize programs is here. And more on the wider topic of awards is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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