May 19, 2015

With new Booker rules, is the prize formerly known as the Folio Prize redundant?




The Folio Prize will no longer be the Folio Prize. Like the Orange PrizeturnedBailey’s Prize, it will have to find a new sponsor and rebrand. After two years funding this international prize for literature, the Folio Society is moving on from its sponsorship of what was formerly known as the Literature Prize, according to a Bookseller report by Sarah Shaffi.

Why? Well, chairman Lord “Bob” Gavron passed away early this year, just before the 2015 prize was awarded to Akhil Sharma for Family Life. Twelve employees have been let go from the Folio Society this year.

This prize was founded in opposition to the Man Booker Prize… wait, let’s qualify that a bit. From the way they’re characterized in the news, prizes seem to bicker as much as teenage girls. One of the directors of the Folio Prize, Andrew Kidd, said to The Guardian years ago:

All book prizes are charitable organisations that are run for the public benefit, so this notion of prizes somehow rivalling each other doesn’t really make any sense. More initiatives that bring more great books to more people can only be a good thing.

Yes! It’s hard to oppose more opportunities to give authors international acclaim and, oh, £40,000. They gave this honor to George Saunders. If you have £40,000, go ahead, give it to Saunders. It’ll feel good. Saunders is great. So great, they gave him the prize for linked stories.

The Folio Prize was founded to recognize all English language writers, especially those named George Saunders, in a moment when the Man Booker was resistant to the idea of opening up its prize to Americans. Historically, the Booker was limited to writers in the UK, Ireland,, Zimbabwe, and the Commonwealth. It was also limited to novels.

The Folio had a clear purpose: considering all English language writers, and considering them beyond the format limitations of similar prizes. But shortly after it was founded, there was a big kerfuffle about whether the Booker ought to open things up. Would African and sub-continental writers be overlooked? Would there be too many books in the world for the judges to consider?

The Folio Society solved this by allowing their judges to nominate three titles each, which are eventually ranked to determine a long list. The Booker, on the other hand, requires that titles be submitted by their publishers (and the publishers can only submit so many books).

In the end, the Booker rules were rewritten to mirror those of the Folio Prize. Does that make the Folio redundant? No. There are so many titles published each year, it’s hard to gain attention for any at all; longlists can help readers narrow their reading lists, or consider titles they wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

What will the Folio Prize become? What are the distinguishing features of the Jameson Prize for Literature, or whatever company funds the prize in 2016?

We admired how many independent publishers’ titles were considered last year, and the judges could seek to encourage attention outside the Big Six (we are not biased or anything). There’s plenty of room for a prize that’s open to linked stories or other less traditional formats, like Tenth of December. We’ll be eager to hear who will fund the prize in coming years.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.