In London, Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell Win the 2022 International Booker Prize

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Tomb of Sand’ is the first novel translated from an Indian language to win the award. Shree and Rockwell split the International Booker’s £50,000 purse.

author Geetanjali Shree, left, and translator Daisy Rockwell are the winners of the 2022 International Booker Prize for ‘Tomb of Sand.’ Image: Booker Foundation

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

See: Geetanjali Shree on the Need for ‘a Pluralistic Multilingual World’

‘Spellbinding Brio and Fierce Compassion’
In London, the 2022 International Booker Prize tonight (May 26) has been won by author Geetanjali Shree and translator Daisy Rockwell for their work on Tomb of Sand (Tilted Axis Press, 2021).

The moment carries several important firsts, as listed by the Booker Foundation in its media messaging this evening:

  • Tomb of Sand is the first book originally written in any Indian language to win the prize, and the first novel translated from Hindi to be recognized
  • Tomb of Sand is Shree’s first novel to be published in the UK
  • Daisy Rockwell’s English translation won one of English PEN’s translation awards in 2019
  • Its publication by the independent Tilted Axis Press ties in Deborah Smith, the company’s founder and the translator who won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of The Vegetarian by Korean author Han Kang

It’s of particular importance to note that the winning International Booker Prize comes from an independent press.

In a news conference earlier today, International Booker Prize jury chair Frank Wynne credited independent publishers with the lion’s share of translated work. “Nobody is surprised that the majority of books on the long- and shortlist,” he said, “are independent publishers. Small independent presses have done enormous work in bringing translation to people.”

While the Big Five publishers do, of course, produce translated work, Wynne said, the going concept about translated literature is that it’s “difficult,” as in difficult to produce and difficult to sell.

But translations, Wynne said, “are no more ‘difficult’ than anything else. It’s not some kind of cod liver oil that’s supposed to be good for you.”

‘The Power, the Poignancy, and the Playfulness’

The International Booker Prize, of course, is not to be confused with the Booker Prize for Fiction. This one is focused on translation, and its £50,000 prize (US$63,024) is to be split equally between the winning author and translator.

In the 2022 iteration of the international prize, each of the shortlisted authors and translators is to receive £2,500 (US$3,151), increased from £1,000 in previous years. These new figures bring the total value of the purses in the International Booker to £80,000 (US$100,800).

The 2022 jury read entries published in the United Kingdom or Ireland between May 1 of last year and April 30 of this year. The starting pool comprised 135 titles and a record number of submissions.

The author of three novels and several story collections, Geetanjali Shree has been translated into English, French, German, Serbian, and Korean. She is represented by the Astier-Pécher Literary Agency. She was born in Mainpuri, and this is the first of her books to be published in the United Kingdom. She has received and been shortlisted for a number of awards and fellowships, and lives in New Delhi.

You’ll find Olivia Snaije’s recent interview with Shree for Publishing Perspectives here.

Rockwell is an American translator, a native of Massachusetts who now lives in Vermont. She has translated classic works of Hindi and Urdu literature including Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls, Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, and Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard. Her 2019 translation of Krishna Sobti’s A Gujarat Here, a Gujarat There was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Translation Prize.

In speaking to the jury’s rationale, the panel’s chair, Wynne is quoted, saying, “This has been an exceptionally strong shortlist, and it was gradually, regretfully, that we winnowed these six down to one after a long and impassioned debate.

“Ultimately, we were captivated by the power, the poignancy and the playfulness of Tomb of Sand, Geetanjali Shree’s polyphonic novel of identity and belonging, in Daisy Rockwell’s exuberant, coruscating translation.

“This is a luminous novel of India and Partition, but one whose spellbinding brio and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, male and female, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole.”

The International Booker Prize 2022 Shortlist
Title Author Translator Original Language Author Residence Publisher or Imprint
Cursed Bunny Bora Chung Anton Hur Korean South Korea Honford Star
A New Name: Septology VI-VII Jon Fosse Damion Searls Norwegian Norway Fitzcarraldo Editions
Heaven Mieko Kawakami Samuel Bett and David Boyd Japanese Japan Pan Macmillan/Picador
Elena Knows Claudia Piñeiro Frances Riddle Spanish Argentina Charco Press
Tomb of Sand Geetanjali Shree Daisy Rockwell Hindi India Tilted Axis Press
The Books of Jacob Olga Tokarczuk Jennifer Croft Polish Poland Fitzcarraldo Editions

As you’ll recall, Wynne is the first International Booker Prize jury chair who is a translator. He was joined on the panel by:

  • Author and academic Merve Emre
  • Writer and lawyer Petina Gappah
  • Writer, comedian a presenter in television, radio, and podcasts Viv Groskop
  • Translator and  author Jeremy Tiang

Frank Wynne

Wynne is having a big week, having on Monday (May 23) become the winner with author Alice Zeniter, of the 2022 Dublin Literary Award. That program’s €100,000 purse (US$107,179)—as opposed to the 50-50 split of the International Booker prize—is split 75-25, with €75,000 going to the author.

Wynne became something of an international local hero—local to translation—earlier this spring with his call for publishers to pay translators royalties on the sales of books they translate.

The Booker Foundation has endorsed Wynne’s position on translators’ compensation, which, as Wynne put it in today’s news conference, is “intertwined” with the call made for book-cover credit for translators led by Society of Authors and the International Booker-winning American translator Jennifer Croft—who was shortlisted in tonight’s International Booker program for her translation from Polish to English of Olga Tokarczuk‘s The Books of Jacob.

  • In a quick scan of the shortlist, it’s worth noting that Tilted Axis Press does credit translators on its book covers, as is the case with the Shree-Rockwell win.
  • Fitzcarraldo Editions does not credit translators on its covers, and so Damion Searls, like Croft, are not given credit for their translation work on the book covers they share with Fosse and Tokarczuk.
  • It appears that Pan Macmillan’s Picador does not credit Sam Bett or David Howard for their translation work of Mieko Kawakami’s work.
  • Translator Anton Hur is credited by Honford Star for his translation work on Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny.

Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell, who were seen on Sunday (May 22) at London’s Southbank Centre in an afternoon of International Booker Prize shortlistees’ readings, are to make their first appearances as winners of the prize at Wales’ Hay Festival on May 29.

Wynne, today in the Booker Foundation’s news conference, spoke to the impressive capability of the Booker’s programming to move books on the market. Sales of Tomb of Sand on the British marketplace, he said, could increase greatly on the strength of the news of tonight’s award.

Indeed, one of the most gratifying elements of the Booker programs (both awards) is that the foundation provides some sense of what impact winning can have on sales. This is something rarely done by other awards programs in literature and publishing, a fact that (a) causes some observers to doubt that they, too, can move sales with “the golden sticker,” and (b) makes it only harder for so many awards programs to justify the attention they clamor for in an overcrowded field of honors.

Tonight, the Booker Foundation is reporting that the announcement of the 2021 International Booker Prize-winner, At Night All Blood Is Black, written by David Diop and translated by Anna Moschovakis, saw the book’s publisher, Pushkin Press, order a five-figure reprint the day after the winner announcement. The week following the winner announcement, the Booker is reporting, sales of At Night All Blood Is Black saw a 477-percent sale increase over the week before.

The Booker’s team always enjoys mentioning former United States president Barack Obama’s attention to the programs’ work, tonight pointing out, “He listed At Night All Blood Is Black at the top of his summer reading list.”

Image: Booker Foundation

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 98th awards report published in the 100 days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on both Booker Prize programs is here. More on the International Booker Prize is here, more on translation is here, and more from us on international publishing and book awards programs in general is here. More on the Indian market in publishing is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.