Bring Up the Booker

Yesterday the prestigious Man Booker prize was awarded, breaking two important records in the process. The lucky recipient Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the award twice, and the first author to win it for a consecutive sequel.

British author Mantel won her first Booker prize in 2009 with the historical fiction novel Wolf Hall. The story follows “the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII of England.” From there, Mantel set to work on creating a trilogy from the acclaimed novel. Bring Up the Bodies, the winner of this year’s Man Booker prize, is the second installment in that trilogy. The novel picks up where its predecessor left off, detailing Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace and eventual execution.

Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of the judging committee, had high praise for both Mantel and Bring Up the Bodies:

She has recast the most essential period of our modern English history; we have the greatest modern English prose writer reviving possibly one of the best known pieces of English history… It is well-trodden territory with an inevitable outcome, and yet she is able to bring it to life as though for the first time.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, five times shortlisted for the Booker prize herself, had equally raving comments for Mantel in her Guardian review of Bring Up the Bodies from May of this year:

Literary invention does not fail her: she’s as deft and verbally adroit as ever.

On top of those accolades, Mantel will take home a £50,000 prize, not to mention a massive boost in sales. So influential is the award on readers, that revenue for every Booker winner increases by at least £1m. When Yan Martel took home the Booker in 2002, his novel Life of Pi soared to over £10m in sales (that’s over $16m). Although, we wouldn’t say that Mantel’s sales of her latest book are exactly suffering…

According to the latest figures, Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies has sold 108,342 copies, which is more than the other 11 Man Booker longlisted novels combined.

Add to that the fact that Mantel’s first two installments of the trilogy have already been set to be adapted into a BBC TV series, and we’re sure the author is quite happy with her recent success.

In fact, her happy disbelief came across onstage as she accepted her award with a quip:

You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once.

I know how privileged and lucky I am to be standing here tonight. I regard this as an act of faith and a vote of confidence.

Congratulations to Hilary Mantel, not just for winning this award, prestigious in its own right, but for winning it twice and being the first woman to do so. Cheers!

No doubt our fascination with all things Tudor and deliciously bloodthirsty will continue when Mantel releases the finale to her trilogy, which she has already named The Mirror and the Light. Perhaps the third time will be a charm that brings this writer another feather in her already impressive cap.

Hey Genius, MacArthur’s Calling

One call, out of the blue, $500,000, and no strings attached. Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, this only happens to geniuses…

I’m talking about the MacArthur Foundation‘s ‘genius grant,’ which yesterday was awarded to 23 recipients. Among them were authors Junot Diaz, writer of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and the more recent This is How You Lose Her, and Ethiopian born Dinaw Mengetsu, whose two published novels are The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air.

Dinaw Mengetsu

Both authors have had the chance to share their jubilation upon receiving the news, and what it means to them. Mengetsu was as far afield as Nairobi when he received his call:

It was obviously amazingly overwhelming and at the same time felt remarkably appropriate to be there and to be in a community that I felt I was desperately trying to reach out to… Part of what the MacArthur fellowship does is remind me that the work I’ve done is relevant – not necessarily what I write about, but the people who populate my work. That those people have a significance and meaning that sometimes might be overshadowed or lost in the larger narrative of the world, and it’s important to keep writing out of those experiences.

Interestingly, both writers are immigrants to the US, Mengetsu as a toddler and Diaz as a teen. That seems to have influenced their writing and style, and in turn caught the Foundation’s eye, which said of Diaz that he creates “nuanced and engaging characters struggling to succeed and often invisible in plain sight to the American mainstream.” Diaz reflected on the honor of the award in an interview with AP:

It left me thinking about my childhood … It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me … struggling with poverty, struggling with English. … I came from a community that was about as hard-working as you can get and yet no one saw or recognized in any way our contributions or our genius. … I have to wonder, but for circumstances, how many other kids that I came up with are more worthy of this fellowship than me?

Junot Diaz

The Columbian author also said the grant would be “transformational” for him and his work. “It allows you to focus on your art with very little other concerns. It’s kind of like a big blast of privilege.”

For those who’ve never heard of the grant or its criteria, the Foundation’s website offers some information for aspiring geniuses:

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world… [It] awards five-year, unrestricted fellowships to individuals across all ages and fields who show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work.

A full list of the recipients and their bios can be found at the MacArthur Foundation’s page for the fellows of 2012. Among them is the creator of “The Wire,” two filmmakers, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, and  a certain mandolin player who incredibly thought this life-changing call was a robocall. You can read more on that, here.

eNotes Study Guides for Junot Diaz:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


“Fiesta, 1980”

“The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”