Show News September 6, 2011
Does The Booker Prize Make Authors Rich And Famous?

"Prizes don't make writers and writers don't write to win prizes, but in the near-glut of literary awards now on offer, the Booker remains special. It's the one which, if we're completely honest, we most covet."

-Graham Swift, 1996 winner of the Booker for Last Orders.

If we're being completely honest, we're pretty sure that one of the biggest reasons authors of literary fiction get excited about the Man Booker Prize is because winning means you might start rolling like J.K. Rowling.

Two young Canadian authors - Vancouver Island-born Patrick deWitt and Victoria-based Esi Edugyan - were both shortlisted today for the Booker. Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues is a 20th century jazz odyssey, and deWitt's novel The Sisters Brothers is a darkly comic western yarn.

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If either beat out the four other shortlisted authors (all from the UK) at the gala announcement dinner in London on October 18th, they'll take home a cool £50,000 (CAN$80,000).

But the prize money alone isn't where the ATM stops spitting. Winners of the award (which "aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland") can see their careers erupt internationally; books become bestsellers, they get optioned into films, they become the centrepieces in book clubs where the members drink one too many glasses of red but STILL manage to passionately debate the arc of the Uncle With The Glass Prosthetic Hand...

And - crucially for a writer - winning the Booker means they'll have little trouble publishing future works.

To get a better idea of what could lie ahead for deWitt and Edugyan, we took a quick look at the post-Booker lives of the only three Canadian winners in the 43-year history of the prize.

Michael Ondaatje - The English Patient (won in 1992)

Michael Ondaatje's work of historiographic metafiction won him the Booker AND the Governor General's award in 1992. Not too shabs. But to build on that, the book was made into an equally critically acclaimed film in 1997 that grossed over US$230 million worldwide and won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Anthony Minghella.

(Not everybody, however, loved the film.)

In the years since the runaway success of The English Patient, Ondaatje published two new volumes of poetry, as well as the novels Anil's Ghost (2000) and Divisadero (2007), both of which took home the Giller Prize. His new novel, The Cat's Table, came out last week.

Margaret Atwood - The Blind Assassin (won in 2000)

Much like Ondaatje, the doyenne of CanLit didn't necessarily need a Booker win to ensure a successful career, but it certainly didn't hurt. Her novel-within-a-novel work won her the Prize AND a spot on Time Magazine's "ALL TIME 100 Novels" best-of list.

Her followup, Oryx and Crake, almost managed the rare Booker repeat, as it was shortlisted for the 2003 Booker (as well as the Governor General's Award). Her other two novels of the past decade - The Penelopiad (2005) and The Year of the Flood (2009) came in the midst of a characteristically prolific period of Atwood's that saw her produce children's books, collections of short fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and a remote autograph-signing machine thingy.

More recently, she's become a pretty prolific and well-followed (250K+)Tweeter - @MargaretAtwood - even though she remains unknown to some.

Yann Martel - The Life of Pi (won in 2002)

Yann Martel's second novel, about a boy and a Bengal tiger crossing the Atlantic ocean in a raft after a shipwreck, was a Booker win tainted slightly with controversy.

After the Prize's announcement, there was a flap about Martel plagiarizing Pi's central idea from a 1981 Brazilian novel called Max and the Cats, about a refugee crossing the Atlantic on a raft with a jaguar. Martell, after some wriggling, acknowledged that the Brazilian work had given Pi "the spark of life."

Life of Pi went on to sell 7 million copies, and is now being made into a feature film by auteur Ang Lee, with a projected release date of December 21, 2012.

Martell kept busy in the interim, appointing himself to the Ministry of Book Suggesting with his "What is Stephen Harper Reading?" project, where he sent the Prime Minister a book every few weeks between April 2007 and February 2011 in an effort to inform the PM's moments of "stillness".

He could definitely afford to send those packages; Martell's third novel, Beatrice and Virgil (2010), garnered him a Canadian record $3 million worldwide advance. Thanks, Booker!

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