October 18, 2012

The end of the Man Asian


The celebrated but short-lived Man Asian Literary Prize is looking for a new sponsor.

David Parker, Director of the now-just-Asian Literary Prize announced yesterday that the London-based Man Group would no longer be sponsoring the prize for Asian literature published in English. The prize was begun in 2007 and was awarded each year to an outstanding book by a living resident of an Asian nation published, whether originally or in translation, in English.

Parker posted a letter to the prize’s website, writing:

When the Asian Literary Prize began in 2007 with the aim of bringing the best of Asian new writing to the world, Man stood beside us as our founding partner. Their belief in the project has been unwavering. On behalf of everyone involved in the Prize, I would like to thank Man Group for the steady support that has enabled the Prize, in five short years, to achieve more than any of us would have dreamed possible. I would also like to thank the publishers, writers and readers who have responded with such enthusiasm to our efforts to win greater visibility for new Asian writing.

We look forward to the future with a new partner, confident that Asian fiction is now beginning to secure the global readership and recognition it deserves. Our most recent winner, Please Look After Momby South Korean writer Kyung-sook Shin, has recently sold its two millionth copy worldwide – an amazing achievement. One third of the shortlisted writers for this year’s Man Booker Prize are from Asia, and international publishing houses such as Pan Macmillan and Hachette have recently opened offices here in Hong Kong. Clearly, Asian literature is on the march.

The Man Group is, of course, the investment firm which also sponsors the recently-awarded Man Booker Prize, (congrats Hilary, we love you!), the Man Booker International (to be awarded to an author snubbed by the Nobel committee in January at the Jaipur Literature Festival) and an occasional one-off, like the Lost Man Booker Prize or the Man Booker Prize for Literature That Says Nice Things about Investment Bankers.

The company is an old one and would seem, if investment reports that cite St. Augustine are any indication, to take its dedication to literature seriously.

The explanation for the shift may be found in recent announcements from the firm’s Chairman, where he writes that Man “experienced a net decrease in funds under management from $69.1 billion at the end of March 2011 to $58.4 billion at 31 December 2011“ and as a result “in 2012 we will be closely monitoring management’s delivery of a programme to achieve a further $75 million of cost reduction, $50 million of which is targeted to be achieved by the end of the year.” Whether the Asian Literary Prize’s award of a whopping thirty thousand dollars was a necessary part of those cost reductions is unclear.

A spokesman for the company announced that they will instead “concentrate on” the Booker Prize. The timing of the news was strange, coming as it did just hours after the award of the Booker to Hillary Mantel. I can only imagine that Parker and others must have known for some little while, but had promised to wait until after the Booker to announce that they’d been dropped.

This places the Asian on the same treacherous footing as the no-longer-Orange Prize for novels written by women, which was itself dropped by that telecom giant earlier this year. That prize has since found a cohort of individual sponsors and been renamed, cryptically enough, the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Whether this proves a lasting salvation is yet to be tested.

The worth of the Asian Literary Prize is evident enough — exposure to contemporary Asian fiction is woefully limited in the English-speaking world, Mo Yan’s recent win notwithstanding. I’ve little doubt it too will find another benefactor. With any luck, the name of this one will lead to less gender-based confusion in book readers the world over.



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.