15 April, 2019
Book Awards are constantly a flux in the displays of high-street bookshops and literary media. Whether it be scrolling through titles online or perusing the shelves of your local libraries and book stores, we have all seen a gold circle adorning the cover of a book once in a while, with those characteristic words “Winner of the …. Prize”. Instinctively, we think “Wow, this must be a good book. It’s won the …. Prize. I mean, I don’t know anything about the …. Prize but it’s WON it, therefore it must be good. Right?” Well that depends on what you look for in a book and an author. The top literary prizes vary in what they praise in their candidates: some focus on titles, while others the author themselves. It’s likely that if you are a bibliophile then you have heard the terms Man Booker or Pulitzer, and you don’t even have to be biblio-orientated to recall those words…Nobel…Prize. But what are the differences between them and others?
First things first, they are prestigious. To be awarded a prize for literature is always going to be an honour but some hold more acclaim in the public eye than others.
The Nobel Prize for Literature
Let’s get one of the big one’s out of the way. A source of recent controversy The Nobel Prize for Literature is the most prestigious prize to be awarded to an author for their body of work. In the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, the honour goes to a writer who has written “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. The nominees are decided each year by the members of the Swedish Academy, consisting of eighteen permanent members, all of Swedish nationality. The criteria of the academy, for nominees, is unknown and deliberations for each prize, although recorded, are held private and not released until fifty years following its garnering. It is noteworthy, that the prize is awarded respective of the nationality of the laureate, a rare occurrence among literary prizes. As of 2018, the country with the most Nobel Laureates in Literature is France (16), followed jointly by the United States (11) and the United Kingdom (11). Alumni include: Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Kenzaburo Oe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, just to name a few.
The (Man) Booker Prize
The (Man) Booker Prize for fiction: awarded to any fiction novel published in the UK in the English language, launched in 1969. The winner is decided each year by a varying committee of five judges which has previously included a diverse mix of critics, writers, academics, politicians, actors, broadcasters, poets and journalists. Until 2014, the Man Booker was reserved for authors that are citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations. A controversial decision was made to open up the award to all nationalities, so long as their work was in the English language and published in the UK. Previous winners include: Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. As of June 2019, the Man Booker Prize’s financial backer will no longer be The Man Group but Crankstart, a charity group. The change in funding will also correspond with a change in the name of the award, as to no longer associate with the Man Group.
The Man Booker also awards a second prize, the Man Booker International Prize, awarded annually for a single book that has been translated into English and published in the UK. Prior to 2016, the Man Booker International prize was awarded for an entire body of work rather than a writer’s individual title. The award praises both the original author and the translator with a 50/50 split of the proceeds. Recent winners, along with their respective translators, include The Vegetarian by Han Kang (2016) and Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (2018).
The Costa Book Awards
The Costa Book awards differ from other prizes due to the fact they award books in five categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book. Of the five recipients, an overall winner is chosen as ‘Costa Book of the Year’. Each category has a panel comprised of three judges, with a separate judging panel for ‘Costa Book of the Year’; consisting of a representative judge from each category and four additional judges.
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is awarded for fictional works published in book form during the year. The Prize for Fiction is exclusive to titles by American authors, with the Pulitzer Prize Board selecting the winner, usually from three nominated finalists. The Pulitzer Board consists of eighteen to nineteen members including members of the press, academics and staff from distinguished publishing houses. Winners include: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction
The Women’s Prize for Fiction was launched in 1996 with the idea of promoting the achievements of female authors who had often not been acknowledged/gone unnoticed by literary prize committees. The award, previously known as both ‘The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction’ and the ‘Orange Prize for Fiction’, has for over two decades shone a light on the work of female writers whose titles have been published in the UK in the respective years. Authors who have been acknowledged by this award include: Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Barbara Kingsolver, Madeline Miller and Ali Smith.
The Republic of Consciousness (RoC) Prize
The Republic of Consciousness Prize is a prize celebrating the work of independent small presses. The prize is relatively new with its inaugural year in 2017. It has since, longlisted twenty-nine titles, shortlisted fourteen and awarded first prize to three lucky winners. Books eligible for the RoC prize are fiction titles published by small presses with fewer than five full–time employees. The award hopes to acknowledge the work produced by UK small presses, who often have limited financial resources and lack the business opportunities afforded to big publishing houses. Although currently small in recognition, the RoC prize represents an important attitude towards diversity in the publishing industry.