News | PenguinRandomHouse | London / New York, 10/23/2017

Man Booker Prize 2017 goes to George Saunders

George Saunders © Kirsty Wigglesworth / picture alliance / AP Photo

George Saunders has won the Man Booker Prize 2017 for his novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.” In the U.S., the book was published as a hardcover, e-book and audiobook by the Penguin Random House imprint Random House. The Verlagsgruppe Random House imprint Luchterhand will publish the novel in German in the spring of 2018. The Man Booker Prize has been awarded to English-language authors since 1969 and is regarded as Britain’s most important literary award.

The chances that Penguin Random House would win the British Man Booker Prize this year were admittedly not bad. After all, four of the six shortlisted authors published their books with the Bertelsmann-owned publishing group – spread across the globe in the U.K., Canada and the U.S. Still there was, of course, great joy that George Saunders, whose book “Lincoln in the Bardo” is published by American imprint Random House, ended up winning the prestigious literary award.

In a communication, Penguin Random House congratulates Saunders and his editor Andy Ward, the Random House and Random House Audio publication teams, and all the publishing group’s short- and long-listed authors published by its various imprints in Canada and the U.K. “As their publisher, we are humbled by the recognition bestowed in 2017 upon Nobel Literature Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, our four Pulitzer Prize winners, and now George Saunders as recipients of this year’s highest literary honors.”

“The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative,” said Baroness Lola Young, Chair of the judges, at the award ceremony in London on Tuesday evening. “Thank you for this great honor which I hope to live up to with the rest of my work, for the rest of my life,” said Saunders, who is only the second American ever to be honored with the British Man Booker Prize.

Between life and death

 “Lincoln in the Bardo” is the first full-length novel by George Saunders, who had previously made a name for himself with short stories such as the “New York Times” bestselling “Tenth of December.” “Lincoln in the Bardo” is set during the American Civil War, but deals with a private rather than a political theme: the death of Abraham Lincoln's eleven-year-old son Willie. Based on this real event, Saunders tells a story about family, love and loss, which in the course of the narrative leaves its historical framework behind and transcends into a supernatural sphere as Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange state between life and death, which is called the “bardo” in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

In “The New York Times Book Review” Colson Whitehead describes the book as: “A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.  Here is a crucible for heroic American identity; fearful but unflagging; hopeful even in tragedy; staggering, however tentatively, toward a better world.” “Harper's Magazine” writes that “Saunders is the most humane American writer working today” and “Vogue” writes: “Saunders - well on his way toward becoming a twenty-first-century Twain - crafts an American patchwork of love and loss, giving shape to our foundational sorrows.”

From bouncer to author

George Saunders was born in Texas and only came to literature via a circuitous route. He studied geophysics, worked in the oil fields of Sumatra, and after his return worked as a doorman/bouncer, roofer and slaughterhouse assistant before studying literature. He has written several volumes of short stories, a book of essays, and a children's book. He teaches creative writing at Syracuse University, and among other things was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009, the PEN/Malamud Award in 2013 and the Folio Prize in 2014. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Oneonta, New York state.

Other nominees

Besides George Saunders, the Penguin-Random House authors Ali Smith (“Autumn”) and Mohsin Hamid (“Exit West”) from Britain as well as Paul Auster (“4 3 2 1”) from Canada were also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. Authors signed with Bertelsmann’s publishing arm who have won the Man Booker Prize in previous years include Richard Flanagan (2014), Julian Barnes (2011) and Anne Enright (2007).