The Booker Prize will be sponsored by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Sir Michael Moritz's charitable foundation Crankstart in a five-year deal, it has been announced. But the Booker Prize has said it will not use the opportunity of the change in sponsor to reverse its controversial decision to allow US writers to enter the award.
Crankstart's support will begin on 1st June after this year’s international prize is awarded – the last to be funded by the Man Group after an 18-year partnership. Afterwards, the contests will simply be known as the Booker Prize and International Booker Prize, rather than carrying the new supporter’s name. The Booker Prize Foundation said it had begun a search for a new sponsor, once the trustees knew that the Man Group’s sponsorship was coming to an end in the summer of 2018, but that the link to Crankstart came through a personal connection to Mike Moritz and Harriet Heyman. "Aside from the Crankstart discussion, which was already well advanced, we had many interested parties enquiring about sponsorship rights as soon as the news broke of Man Group’s withdrawal," the Foundation said.
Crankstart was set-up by venture capitalist Moritz and his wife Harriet Heyman in 2000 with the aim of supporting “the forgotten, the dispossessed, the unfortunate, the oppressed and causes where some help makes all the difference”. It has funded scholarships for low-income students at Oxford University, the University of Chicago, the Julliard School and others. Money has also been given to the American Civil Liberties Union and homeless projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Helena Kennedy, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation trustees, said: “We are thrilled that the Booker Prizes have found such marvellous philanthropic supporters in Crankstart, whose founders share our vision and values. With its support, we look forward to developing initiatives for the Booker to reach new audiences of every generation and background around the world.
“Thanks to Crankstart, we will be able to continue the charitable activities of the Booker Prize Foundation, working with, among others, the National Literacy Trust in prisons, with RNIB to make the shortlist accessible to blind and partially sighted readers, and in universities around the UK.’
Moritz, born in Wales, is an Oxford graduate, ex-Time journalist and a partner at California investment firm Sequoia Capital. He has written a number of books including two on Apple and its founder Steve Jobs, alongside Leading (Hodder & Stoughton) with ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. His philanthropic and business dealings saw him awarded the KBE in the Queen’s 2013 birthday honours. Heyman is an American writer has worked at Life and the New York Times along with producing a novel and photographic book.
Moritz said: “Neither of us can imagine a day where we don’t spend time reading a book. The Booker Prizes are ways of spreading the word about the insights, discoveries, pleasures and joy that spring from great fiction. These days I’m a global traveller but, just like the Booker, I was born in Britain and before coming to America was reared on English literature. Harriet and I feel fortunate to be able to support prizes that together celebrate the best fiction in the world.”
Crankstart will have the option to renew its support for another five years while the £50,000 Booker prize money will remain unchanged.
Profile Books m.d. Andrew Franklin, said the new sponsor was “really good news and they’ve done it really cleverly”. He told The Bookseller: “I think it’s great. It seems like small change to him and if he’s interested in supporting books and literacy this is a good way of making a difference.”
Franklin was one of a host of publishers who last year called for the Booker to reverse its decision allowing US authors to enter the prize and suggested there should be a third Booker prize launched instead to include Amercians. But he said he was not concerned about a US-based organisation stepping in.
Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander said: “I’m delighted of course and I think the whole industry must be delighted. It’s our most important book prize, globally it’s very important and now its future is secure. I’m relieved also they’ve done it very fast so there’s less uncertainty than there is about Brexit.”
She added: “There’s no pressure on them to change the rules other than people in the business hoping they do. It’s nothing to do with sponsorship and I think it’s now even less likely they’ll change them.”
The Man Group publicly announced it was ending its sponsorship of the prize in January although Booker trustees said they knew in the summer of 2018 and had been searching for new funding since then. Man’s involvement had proved controversial in recent years, with Sebastian Faulks calling it “the enemy”. But the Foundation said the Man Group had informed it about its decision before Faulks' comment was made.
There are currently no plans to change the rules on which books are eligible, despite criticism of American authors entering the contest, the Foundation added: "A sponsor or funder has no say over the rules. There is no plan to reverse the rule that writers of any nationality are eligible to be entered, providing that their books are written in English and published in the UK. However, BPF continues to have an open dialogue with stakeholders. Both prizes are constantly evolving and will continue to change to ensure that readers are exposed to the best books, either written in or translated into English, in any one year. BPF looks forward to working with Crankstart to develop ideas to reach new audiences around the world."
The 2018 Booker winner was Anna Burns' Milkman (Faber). The 2018 Man Booker International winner was Olga Tokarczuk's Flights (Fitzcarraldo), translated by Jennifer Croft.