The Booker Prize is one of the most significant events in the literary scene. Winning the award catapults the author into fame, grants them a £50,000 prize, and boosts book sales for both them and their publishing house.
The award is designed for books written in the English language and published in the UK or Ireland, but the limitations on which novels qualify for the award have caused controversy in the past. When the prize was launched in 1969, it was only open to writers in Commonwealth, Ireland, and South Africa, but entry was expanded 2o14, leaving some calling the decision an 'abandonment of British authors'. The chief fear was that American authors would dominate the shortlists, and it is true that Americans have overwhelmed the nominees in past years.
This year further criticism about the Americanisation of the award has come because the announcement date of the winner has been postponed, in order not to clash with the release of Obama's memoir, 'A Promised Land'. The rescheduling of the award has meant that it will now occur in the same week as the American 'National Book Awards', resulting in American authors being concerned that the publicity, a key aspect of winning either prize, will be divided and therefore reduced. This attention on the America market, whilst seen as changing the original scope of the prize in the UK, is regarded as necessary by The Booker Prize given it now is part of a broader publishing world calendar.
With its criticism, The Booker Prize has also received praise, with 2020 being its most diverse year ever. On this year's six person shortlist, are four people of colour, four women, four debut novelists, and only one nominee from the UK. Winners in the past years have included several POC, including Marlon James (2015), Paul Beatty (2016) and Bernadine Evaristo (2019 - joint with Hilary Mantel), who said that the 2020 shortlist was 'ground breaking'. The head of the Booker 2020 judging panel said that the chosen works reflected 'important, sometimes uncannily similar and prescient messages', and touched on important topics such aging, racism, our climate and communities.
Applicants applying for English Literature might like to examine changes to the publishing scene that have could better reflect diversity, and potential changes that could be made to the UK English Literature and Language curriculum to improve diversity.
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