ENGL379I - Special Topics in Literature; The Man Booker Prize: Its History and Winners

What do the British writer Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the Nigerian writer Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, and the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin all have in common? They have all won the Man Booker Prize. Begun in 1968 and now one of the most prestigious and lucrative literary prizes in the world, the Booker has a fascinating history that has sometimes generated controversy. The prize was created by a British company that long operated the sugar industry in Guyana—leading the 1972 winner, John Berger, to denounce its connections to colonialism and indentured servitude. Even the current sponsor, the Man Group, has ties to the colonial rum and cocoa industries. Moreover, once a prize only for British and Commonwealth writers, the Booker was globalized in 2013 into an award for any novel written in English and published in the U.K., a move that some said would dilute its identity. Identity aside, the prize is as much marketing machine as award, with the ability to turn contemporary novels—like the British writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day—into household names. By reading the history of the Booker alongside the novels that have won it, this class explores the cultural, economic, and stylistic values of the contemporary literary industry and of the novels that bear this particular prize’s stamp of approval.