History of the Booker PrizeThe Booker Company is a diverse British company, with origins as a colonial business enterprise, that centered most of its business by the 1950s in Guyana, responsible for 35% of Guyana's gross domestic product.
Realizing that the Booker Company needed to diversify its business interests and disassociate itself with colonial slavery practices, a Managing Director of the company named Jock Campbell sought to broaden the Booker Company's holdings within the United Kingdom, moving into food distribution and shipping. The TurboBookSnob detests the very notion of slavery, and applauds Mr. Campbell for this decision.
During a conversation Campbell had with Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), Campbell realized that there was money to be made in fiction. Fleming's desire to sell his interest in the James Bond novels led Campbell to start the Authors' Division of Booker Company. That division soon purchased the copyrights to many writers' works, including Agatha Christie.
In the meantime, Tom Maschler, a Publishing Director at Jonathan Cape, spent time in Paris in the 1950s, where he became enraptured by the attention the French bestowed on literary prizes. The Prix Goncourt captured the cultural zeitgeist and turned France's attention to literature in a way that no English literature prize had ever done. Maschler returned to England, eventually taking a position at Jonathan Cape, but was never able to forget the excitement he experienced with the Prix Goncourt in Paris. He began quietly but steadily campaigning for a comparable English literature prize.
In the late 1960s, Jonathan Cape's relationship with the Booker Company brought Maschler's vision together providentially with a company that had already seen the benefit of its involvement in literature, and was well-positioned to provide the sponsorship needed to get a new prize off the ground.
In 1969, the Booker Prize kicked off its inaugural year, awarding P.H. Newby with the first Booker for Something to Answer For. Although it did not have the worldwide acclaim and prestige that it now enjoys, Tom Maschler notes the impact the Booker Prize had right from the beginning:
"I shall never forget our pride and joy when the very first novel to win the Booker, P.H. Newby's Something to Answer For, appeared on the Evening Standard bestseller list. It was the first time that a British novel had found its way onto a bestseller list purely as a result of winning a prize. From the time that the prize was televised regularly, the impact was such that not only the winner but also the shortlist appeared on the bestseller list."
The prize has been administered by Book Trust (formerly National Book League) since 1971. Martyn Goff is the Chairman, final authority on questions about rules, and issuer of the highly coveted invitations to act as judge. The TurboBookSnob believes she would make a first rate judge, if by chance Mr. Goff is reading this site. The rules make allowances for non-UK citizens to act as judges, and the TurboBookSnob would be willing to forgive last years slight of Monica Ali's Brick Lane, if she were invited to act as a judge. If the arrangements can't be made for 2005 Booker, an invitation to this year's October award dinner at Guildhall would be a lovely gesture.
By 1981, the prize was being covered by BBC Television. Most authors are delighted to be shortlisted for the prize, and to revel in the enormous publicity that live television provides. Those who are less gracious in defeat still need to behave themselves in front of the unblinking eye of television cameras.
The aim of the Booker Prize has been and remains to draw attention to Commonwealth Novels and their authors. It has been enormously successful. Booker has resisted the spurious temptation to honour "best sellers." Best-selling novels don't need a prize because they make piles of money. They have prime shelf position in airports and mall Bookstores, making their money by being generic enough to not offend the masses.
The Booker prize has earned respect throughout the world by taking risks, and promoting innovation. The TurboBookSnob has the deepest respect and love for the prize. She intends to follow the prize, and continue to use it as her primary resource for finding new books and authors. She isn't kidding about wanting to be a judge and wants to take this opportunity to proclaim: If TurboBookSnob dies before becoming a judge, she fully intends to haunt or curse the prize depending on which options are available to her in the afterlife.
| © 2008 Wendy Faust
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