Since the inception of the Man Booker Prizes’ predecessor, the Booker-McConnel prize, in 1969, women have been nominated and have won the prize; in 2013, the Man Booker has been around for 44 years. Seventeen of the fifty prizes awarded have been to women authors in various competitions for prizes associated with the Man Booker Prize.
Ion Trewin, the Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation maintains that the Man Booker Prize “aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland”. With this mission in mind, the award has garnered attention as one of the most prestigious literary awards, and is highly regarded internationally.
First sponsored in 1969 by the company Booker-McConnell, the Man Booker was initially called the Booker-McConnell Prize. Eventually, it became known as the Booker Prize for short. In 2002, the prize gained Man as one its prominent sponsors and adopted its name, thus becoming renamed as the Man Booker Prize. The prize, no matter the name, has been awarded annually since 1969, with some instances of multiple prizes awarded per year.
The judges come from various backgrounds and have included in the past “poets, politicians, journalists, broadcasters and actors”. These judges also include Man Booker authors such as Nadine Gordimer, and Michèle Roberts.
The author of the winning book of the Man Booker Prize is awarded £50,000 (approximately $80,000 CAD in 2013), and their book gains much notoriety as a result of winning the prize.
The first woman to author a Booker winning novel was in 1970 (only the second year the prize was awarded). Bernice Rubens won with her novel The Elected Member. There were also three other women who wrote novels that were shortlisted for the prize that year: Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Bowen, and A L Barker.
Since 1969, there have been two years where the prize had no female nominees: 1976, and 1991. There have also been two years where there have been two novels awarded the prize. In 1992, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger won the prize, and in 1974 Stanley Middleton’s Holiday and Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationalist won the prize.
Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice in 2012, winning twice out of three separate nominations. She was first awarded a Man-Booker in 2009 with Wolf Hall, and she won again in 2012 with Bring up the Bodies. Her novel Beyond Black was also longlisted in 2005.
Other women writers on the Man Booker shortlists and longlists multiple times include the likes of Margaret Atwood, Beryl Bainbridge, Muriel Spark, and Doris Lessing.
The Man Booker also hosts an international prize, which “recognizes one writer for his or her achievement in fiction” valued at £60,000 (approximately $95,000 CAD in 2013); the award seeks to “consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel,” and considers any writer whose work is in English or is available to read in English. The International prize was first awarded in 2005, and is awarded biannually. Winners have included well-known authors such as Chinua Achebe and Philip Roth. Of the four winners since 2005, Alice Munro is so far the only woman to have won the International prize.
Man Booker crafted a special literary award specifically to celebrate the so-called “Booker Bridesmaid,” the late Beryl Bainbridge, who had previously been nominated five times, but had never won the Man Booker. In honour of Bainbridge, Man Booker created the Man Booker Best of Beryl Award—an award that could only go to Bainbridge. Her novel Master Georgie, her final Man Booker nominated novel, won the award out of her five previous Man Booker nominated books.
Two other specialized awards exist: The Best of Booker, to celebrate the prize’s fortieth anniversary, and the Lost Man Booker Prize to compensate for not awarding a prize in 1970.