It is worth looking at how the winning vote has fallen over the fifty awards since the prize was first awarded in 1969 – there have been years with two awards. The criteria have been for novels nominated by publishers, published in the current year, in English, in the United Kingdom. Over time it has been open only to Commonwealth plus Ireland and Zimbabwe writers, but this has now changed. Since 2013 the award is open to writers of all nationalities writing in English and published in the UK.
As yet there has not been a winner outside the original criteria. Since 1969 UK and Irish writers have dominated winning the prize 31 times, Australian writers have succeeded 4 times, South African, Canadian, New Zealand and Indian writers each on 3 occasions, Caribbean writers twice – VS Naipaul in 1971 and Marlon James this year and a Nigerian writer once – Ben Okri’s, The Famished Road in 1991. Three writers have won ‘the Booker’ twice: JG Farrell, JM Coetzee and Hilary Mantel. Salman Rushdie, the winner with Midnight’s Children in 1981, also won the ‘Booker of Bookers’ in 1993, celebrating 25 years of the prize.
Some years there is said to have been unanimity amongst judges, other years there have been disputes, sometimes public. Prize-winners, and to a lesser extent short-listed writers, gain publicity, thus at heart the competition with entrants nominated by publishers, is sales driven and relates to a particular book. There has been division on the merits of widening the national eligibility of writers – it will be of interest to see how this impacts and whether ‘Commonwealth’ writers hold their dominant place as Booker prize-winners on an international stage.
The Man Booker International Prize differs in that it is for authors’ whole body of work and nominated by judges on their own assessment, not by publishers.