English department first in Africa to host Man Booker Prize in 2015

18 Feb 2015 - 17:15
Man Booker International

Man Booker International judges head for UCT English Department

UCT English students will be sharing the Arts Block next March with five internationally-renowned writers, scholars and editors, when the English Department hosts the judging panel for the 6th Man Booker International Prize. The panel, which was appointed last month and comprises Marina Warner (Chair), Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank and Wen Chin Ouyang, will be at UCT for the final week of March 2015, during which the nominees for the prestigious prize will be officially announced.

New faces on the Arts Block: Man Booker International Prize judges for 2015: (from left) Maria Warner, CBE, Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank and Wen-chin Ouyang.


Established in 2005, the International Prize is worth £60 000 and is quite distinct from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It is awarded every two years to recognize the sustained achievement of one writer’s work in fiction. The nominees are selected by the panel with advice from an e-Council of over 80 past judges and recipients of Man Booker awards. Unlike the yearly fiction prize, there are no submissions from publishers, work translated into English is frequently under consideration, and the winner - generally announced in June - is chosen at the sole discretion of the judging panel. Past winners of the International Prize are Ishmael Kadare (2005) Chinua Achebe (2007), Alice Munro (2009), Philip Roth (2011) and Lydia Davis (2013).

While the nomination ceremony always takes place beyond British borders, this is the first time it will come to Africa. Man Booker’s decision to stage the event in Cape Town was made early this year, and according to Head of Department, Professor Meg Samuelson, UCT English was an obvious partner. “We are the leading English Department on the continent, and as two institutions that are shaping cultures of reading and writing, we share similar ground”. There are other commonalities too: Emeritus Professor JM Coetzee has won the Man Booker prize for fiction twice - for Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and for Disgrace (1999) - while International Prize winner Chinua Achebe and past nominee Ngugi wa Thiong'o (2011) are enthusiastically taught in the Department. This year, the Africa/Man Booker connection is further strengthened via the involvement of Natal-born Elleke Boehmer whose work frequently focuses on South African writing and includes an autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

Interestingly though, Achebe and Ngugi are the only names from sub-Saharan Africa among the 64 nominees so far considered for the International Prize. Acknowledging the imbalance, Samuelson praised her Department’s ongoing seminar series, ‘Africa Reading Humanities’ (ARH), which encourages greater reflection on world literature from the Global South. This focus would intensify in the weeks ahead of the judges’ visit, she said, with discussions picking up on their pre-publicity debate - ‘Where is world literature?’ – scheduled for November in Abu Dhabi. Among events planned during their time at UCT, Samuelson envisaged a public seminar on the same theme and talks based around The Arabian Nights and the work of Chinua Achebe.

The five judges will be seen around Upper Campus from March 23rd and will spend significantly longer in Cape Town than panels usually allocate to the announcement process. This is to incorporate a weekend when they will join volunteers from UCT’s SHAWCO working with young learners throughout the city.

Story by: Kate Burling