George Saunders wins 2017 Man Booker Prize for fiction

Leading American short story writer George Saunders has been declared as the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for fiction for his “unique” and “extraordinary” debut novel “Lincoln in the Bardo”.

Saunders’ win was announced by Lola Baroness Young, the chair of the judging committee, at a dinner at London’s Guildhall late on Tuesday night.

He was presented with a trophy from the Duchess of Cornwall and a 50,000 pounds cheque by Luke Ellis, Chief Executive of Man Group. Saunders also received a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

Saunders thanked his wife, Paula, referring to her as his “precious friend and artistic hero” for supporting him to achieve the “wonderful honour”.

“If you haven’t noticed, we live in a strange time. So the question at the heart of the matter is pretty simple: do we respond to fear with exclusion and negative projection and violence? Or do we take that ancient great leap of faith and do our best to respond with love? And with faith in the idea that what seems other is actually not other at all, but just us on a different day,” Saunders said upon receiving the prize.

“In the US we are hearing a lot about the need to protect culture. Well this tonight is culture, it is international culture, it is compassionate culture, it is activist culture. It is a room full of believers in the word, in beauty and ambiguity and in trying to see the other person’s point of view even when that is hard.”

The 58-year-old New York resident, born in Texas, is the second American author to win the prize in its 49-year history. He was in contention for the prize with two British, one British-Pakistani and two American writers.

“The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent and deeply moving narrative. This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world. Lincoln in the Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy,” commented Young, 2017 Chair of judges.

Young’s fellow judges this year were writer and critic Lila Azam Zanganeh, novelist and poet Sarah Hall, the artist and author Tom Phillips, and the travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron

“Lincoln in the Bardo” focuses on a single night in the life of Abraham Lincoln: an actual moment in 1862 when the body of his 11-year-old son was laid to rest in a Washington cemetery. Strangely and brilliantly, Saunders activates this graveyard with the spirits of its dead.

The novel is published by Bloomsbury, making it the third consecutive year the prize has been won by an independent publisher, following Oneworld Publications’ success in 2015 with Marlon James and 2016 with Paul Beatty.

Bloomsbury has won the prize thrice before with Howard Jacobson (2010), Margaret Atwood (2000) and Michael Ondaatje (1992).

The judges considered 144 submissions for this year’s prize. The books losing out on the prize were “4321” by Paul Auster (US), “Elmet” by Fiona Mozley (UK), “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistan), “History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund (US) and “Autumn” by Ali Smith (UK).