Join the Booker Prize debate at the Charleston Festival

Erica Wagner. Picture by Olivia Beasley
Erica Wagner. Picture by Olivia Beasley

Forget what you may have heard about judges falling out in the final selection process.

According to writer Erica Wagner, who judged the 2002 and 2014 award, her experience is plenty of polite discussion rather than stormy dissent.

And if your idea of heaven is to spend the summer reading, bear in mind that every judge has to read more than 130 books from cover to cover.

“It’s a serious task,” says Erica. “You have to read a book a day. In the bath. Over breakfast, lunch and supper. In bed. Every spare moment is taken up with reading.

“It is all-consuming. But it is also a great privilege.”

Less demanding will be the event at this year’s Charleston Festival on Thursday, May 24, when three previous Booker judges – including Erica – will celebrate the prize’s 50th anniversary by inviting the audience to witness the selection process and then to choose the winner themselves.

Each of the three judges will make the case for the books chosen in previous years.

Publisher Ellah Wakatama Allfrey judged the 2015 award, which was won by Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings; A.C.Grayling will speak for V.S.Naipaul’s In a Free State and Erica will speak for Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

The debate will be presided over by Gaby Wood, literary director of The Booker Prize Foundation.

Erica says it is difficult to say what makes a particular book stand out from the others, for it is a very personal process – a collaboration between the writer and the reader.

“And I am aware that a different group of judges would probably choose a different book,” she adds. “It is particularly exciting to read a book by an unknown writer.”

There is usually a panel of five judges and out of the long list of more than 130 books they select a short list of 13.

Each book will probably be read at least three times.

What of the fact that there are usually a lot more male writers than female?

“I hope things are changing,” Erica says.

The Booker Prize debate will be at Charleston on Thursday, May 24.

Tickets cost £16 and are available by phone on 01323 815150. Alternatively, people can buy tickets online at, where the whole programme can be viewed.

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