Man Booker Prize searches for new sponsor after funding dropped

Former judge Sebastian Faulks reportedly criticised Man Group as ‘the enemy’

Man Booker Prize: the Belfast writer Anna Burns won the 2018 award. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Pool/Getty

Man Booker Prize: the Belfast writer Anna Burns won the 2018 award. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Pool/Getty

 

The Man Booker Prize is searching for a new sponsor after the hedge-fund giant Man Group announced it is ending its 18-year union with the prestigious British literary award.

The Booker Prize Foundation said its trustees are already in discussion with a new sponsor and are confident that new funding will be in place for 2020. “In the meantime the two prizes will run as usual this year,” it added. Man Group has sponsored the Booker prize since 2002 and the Man Booker International Prize since its inception, in 2005.

Man Group’s chief executive, Luke Ellis, said it has been a privilege to sponsor the prizes for nearly two decades but, “following a careful review of our funding initiatives”, the group had decided to focus its resources on its Paving the Way diversity and inclusion campaign, and also on the Man Charitable Trust, which supports literacy and numeracy.

Last year’s prize was won by the Belfast writer Anna Burns, for her novel Milkman. Within a month it had sold 330,000 copies, according to Faber & Faber

He added: “The Man Booker prizes have meant a huge amount to all of us at Man Group.” Applauding the “exceptional work of the Booker Prize Foundation”, he added: “We are truly honoured to have been part of something so special and unique for nearly 18 years.”

During the long relationship the Booker prize has received criticism from authors and publishers. Established in 1969, it was previously a prize eligible only to authors from Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland.

A 2014 decision to open it up to allow entry to any writer writing in English and published in the UK was met with dismay in some quarters, with claims it had led to domination by American authors. Two out of the five winners since the rule change have been American.

Last year the competition also made Irish-published books eligible. Controversy over their exclusion had arisen when it emerged that Solar Bones, the acclaimed 2016 comeback novel by Mike McCormack, was ineligible because it had been published by Tramp Press, a Dublin-based small press. It was longlisted for the prize in 2017 only after it was published in Britain by Canongate, a Scottish publisher.

Last year’s prize was won by the Belfast writer Anna Burns, for her novel Milkman; within a month it had sold 330,000 copies, according to its publisher, Faber & Faber. She was the fifth Irish writer to receive the award, following Anne Enright, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Iris Murdoch; JG Farrell, who won both the Man Booker Prize and the Lost Man Booker, was of Irish descent.

Man Booker Prize: Man Group are “not the sort of people who should be sponsoring literary prizes”, Sebastian Faulks reportedly said last year. Photograph: Alan Betson
Man Booker Prize: Man Group are “not the sort of people who should be sponsoring literary prizes”, Sebastian Faulks reportedly said last year. Photograph: Alan Betson

Man Group’s sponsorship was criticised last year by Sebastian Faulks, the author of Birdsong, who reportedly called the group “the enemy”, adding that they were “not the sort of people who should be sponsoring literary prizes; they’re the kind of people literary prizes ought to be criticising”. He was a judge for the prize in 1988.

At the Booker ceremony in October, Ellis made what was interpreted as a thinly veiled reference to the author when he said being a sponsor had its “many pleasures and occasional surprises”. Without naming Faulks, he added: “Now I don’t know this author personally, but I think he’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to discover how endearingly bookish many of my colleagues are, and how many of our 70 million pensioner clients are his target audience.”

On Man Group’s decision to pull the plug, Helena Kennedy, chairwoman of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “The Man Group has been an excellent and very generous sponsor... With their support we have seen the prizes and our charitable activities flourish so that today the prizes can claim to be the most significant literary awards in the world.

“We would like to put on record the foundation’s appreciation of Man Group’s sponsorship. However, all good things must come to an end and we looked forward to taking the prizes into the next phase with our new supporter.” – Guardian