Anna Burns wins 50th Man Booker Prize with Milkman

16 October 2018

  • First Northern Irish author to win
  • 17th woman to claim the prize since it began in 1969
  • 'Tale of a paramilitary sexual predator would be a worthy winner’, Irish Times

Milkman by Anna Burns is tonight, Tuesday 16 October, named winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It is her third full-length novel and her first major award.

Burns, 56, who was born in Belfast and lives in East Sussex, drew on the experience of Northern Ireland during the Troubles to write Milkman. Her first acclaimed novel, No Bones, was also set in this period. She saw off competition from two British writers, two American writers and one Canadian writer.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2018 Chair of judges, comments:

'None of us has ever read anything like this before. Anna Burns’ utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose. It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humour. Set in a society divided against itself, Milkman explores the insidious forms oppression can take in everyday life.’

Set in an unnamed city, Milkman focuses on middle sister as she navigates her way through rumour, social pressures and politics in a tight-knit community. Burns shows the dangerous and complex outcome that can happen to a woman coming of age in a city at war.

The Telegraph described the novel as ‘viciously funny’, praising Burns for her ability ‘to paint a colourful social scene’. Meanwhile, the Irish Times wrote that Burns has created a novel that is ‘an impressive, wordy, often funny book and confirms Anna Burns as one of our rising literary stars’.

In the book the characters have designations rather than names. When interviewed for the Man Booker Prize website, Burns said: ‘The book didn’t work with names. It lost power and atmosphere and turned into a lesser — or perhaps just a different — book. In the early days I tried out names a few times, but the book wouldn’t stand for it. The narrative would become heavy and lifeless and refuse to move on until I took them out again. Sometimes the book threw them out itself’.

Milkman is published by Faber & Faber, making it the fourth consecutive year the prize has been won by an independent publisher. Faber & Faber has the second highest number of winning titles of any publisher, with six winners that include: Something to Answer For (1969), Rites of Passage (1980), Oscar and Lucinda (1988), The Remains of the Day (1989), True History of the Kelly Gang (2001), Vernon God Little (2003).

Luke Ellis, CEO of Man Group, comments:

‘My colleagues and I at Man Group would like to congratulate Anna Burns, as well as each of the shortlisted authors. The six shortlisted novels this year explored particularly diverse and wide-ranging experiences and themes, and were linked by their brilliant use of language and creativity. We are honoured to support the Man Booker Prize for the sixteenth year, as it continues in its fiftieth year to champion literary excellence and the power of the novel on a global scale.’

Kwame Anthony Appiah was joined on the 2018 judging panel by the crime writer, Val McDermid; cultural critic Leo Robson; feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose; and artist and graphic novelist Leanne Shapton. The judges considered 171 submissions for this year’s prize.

Anna Burns’ win was announced by Kwame Anthony Appiah at a dinner at London’s Guildhall. She was presented with a trophy from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and a £50,000 cheque by Luke Ellis, Chief Executive of Man Group. Burns also receives a designer bound edition of her book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted. The book binding will be on display to the public, alongside the shortlist, for two weeks from tomorrow at Bonhams Auction House, Montpelier Street, London SW7 1HH.

The event was broadcast live on the BBC News Channel in the UK, on BBC World TV News internationally, and streamed online for international audiences via Actors Adetomiwa Edun, Amy Morgan and Claire Rafferty read extracts from the shortlisted books at the ceremony. All the shortlisted authors attended alongside a number of former winners, including A.S. Byatt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Howard Jacobson, Ben Okri and Jennifer Croft (Man Booker International 2018).

Anna Burns will take part in her first official public event as winner in a New Statesman-partnered event at Foyles Charing Cross Road on Thursday 18 October 2018. Tickets can be bought here.

Royal Mail is issuing a congratulatory postmark featuring the winner’s name, which will be applied to millions of items of stamped mail nationwide for six days from 17 October. It will read ‘Congratulations to Anna Burns, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize’.

On winning the Man Booker Prize, an author can expect international recognition, plus a dramatic increase in book sales. In the week following the 2017 winner announcement, sales of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders increased by 1227%. Bloomsbury has to date sold just under ¼ million copies globally across all formats, 70% of those sales coming after the win.

Other recent winners have included Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013), which will be shown by the BBC as a six-part adaptation next year; Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015), which will become a TV series by Amazon; Hilary Mantel (2012 and 2009), whose Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have led to award-winning adaptations on stage and screen; and Julian Barnes (2011), whose The Sense of an Ending was released as a film in 2017.

The leading prize for quality fiction in English

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as the leading award for quality literary fiction written in English. Its list of winners includes many of the giants of the last five decades, from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch to JM Coetzee. The prize has also recognised many authors early in their careers, including Eleanor Catton, Aravind Adiga and Ben Okri.

Man Group, an active investment management firm, has sponsored the prize since 2002.

The rules of the prize were changed at the end of 2013 to embrace the English language ‘in all its vigour, its vitality, its versatility and its glory’, opening it up to writers beyond the UK and Commonwealth when their novels are published in UK.

To hear the most up-to-date news on this year’s prize, listen to the Man Booker Prize Podcast series, or to learn more about the prize’s history and share your thoughts online, please visit:


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