I was recently able to attend the UEA live event, ‘The Booker Panel’ which consisted of a virtual conversation between 2018 Booker Prize Foundation scholarship recipient Stephen Buoro, Booker Prize-winning writer Anne Enright, Booker Prize Foundation Literary Director Gaby Wood, and former judge for the Booker Prize and current professor of Creative Writing at UEA Giles Foden.
The conversation was particularly enlightening because of its insights into Enright and Buoro’s creative processes, and how these evolved during and since their respective periods as students at UEA. Enright has written two collections of stories, six novels (including the Booker Prize winner ‘The Gathering’), and a non-fiction book since graduating from UEA in 1987. She reflected on how the course, being one of the first Creative Writing MA programs available, had grown since her time there. She touched upon the ways in which she experimented through emulation of other prominent prose writers, and spoke humorously of Angela Carter’s UEA residency, and particularly Carter’s somewhat lasseiz-faire approach, which in turn inspired her to promote an organic attitude to writing in her own teaching, where she is currently based at University College Dublin.
Stephen Buoro, who is currently studying for a PhD in Creative-Critical Writing at UEA and whose debut novel ‘The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa’ will be published by Bloomsbury in 2022, spoke about the opportunity afforded to him by the Booker Prize scholarship and the ways in which his time at UEA have shifted his authorial style. A particular feature of ‘The Five Sorrowful Mysteries’ is that of mathematics and more particularly permutations; universal studies which he focused upon as tools which could aid his protagonist’s understanding of different epistemologies. Buoro became alert to this through the relationships with fellow writers which he fostered at UEA. Buoro was initially inspired to apply for UEA’s Booker scholarship after hearing of the Foundation through UEA alumnus Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize-win in 1989, and Chinua Achebe’s 2007 win, also a fellow Nigerian.
Gaby Wood touched on the Booker Prize Foundation’s capacity for wide-ranging inclusion in her praise of the Foundation’s International Booker Prize, which features alongside its Man Booker Prize. The former potentially encompasses any text written in English, including translation. She also spoke of the Foundation’s focus on a diversity of perspective and taste in the appointing of Booker Prize judges. She discussed how it is the only literary prize where all five judges are required to read each of the contending books, and Wood emphasised the importance of forming a collective catch by employing as wide a range as possible of appraisable perspective.
Wood, Buoro, Enright and Foden all concurred that such an investment in recipient variety is essential, especially in consideration of the opportunities afforded by the Foundation; this being the initiation of firm connections with both domestic and international publishers, and also an investment of belief in the recipient’s talent.