Gaby Wood, head of books for the UK-based Daily Telegraph, has been appointed the new literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation.
Wood succeeds respected literary editor and critic Ion Trewin, who died earlier this month, and her appointment hints at a new focus for the prize.
Wood is half-Mexican, half-British, and in a 2009 piece for The Guardian on Sonia Sotomayor, the first US Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic heritage, she wrote about her own experiences of racism in America. Wood argued that Barack Obama’s election has “worryingly … been cited as proof that we are now colour blind [...] In other words, now we’ve elected Obama, we have a licence to get on with being as racist as we were before.”
In the context of these remarks, and last year’s Man Booker Prize longlist, from which African writers were completely absent, Wood’s appointment could signal a new direction for the prize.
Wood was a judge for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, the year Julian Barnes won for The Sense of An Ending, and has also judged Granta‘s once-in-a-decade list of Best of Young British Novelists, the Jerwood Award for non-fiction, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Bookseller Awards. She is also the author of Edison’s Eve, a history of robits and automata that was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2002.
She will take full responsibility of the prize after this year’s winner is announced on 13 October this year. In the interim, Man Booker International Prize administrator Fiammetta Rocco will handle the prize’s literary direction.
Wood’s father, Princeton Emeritus Professor Michael Wood, is chairman of the judges for this year’s prize.
Booker Prize Foundation chair Jonathan Taylor says: “This is an exciting appointment. Gaby will bring new perspectives while maintaining our mission to bring the best of contemporary literary fiction to an ever widening international audience.
“Ion was aware of our intentions and shared our great enthusiasm at the prospect that Gaby would succeed him.”
Wood spoke to The Guardian about her appointment:
“There has been an odd, bittersweet element to it, in that Ion and Martyn died within weeks of each other. It’s very odd to take on a job in which the only two predecessors have just died, and yet the interesting aspect of that has been to read their obituaries and to see the effect they had,” said Wood. “I had enough time to catch Ion and speak to him about it – I do regret not being able to speak to him more.”
The Trustees of the Booker Prize Foundation announce today that, after a careful selection process, they have appointed Gaby Wood as the next Literary Director of the Foundation. She succeeds Ion Trewin, who sadly died earlier this month.
For the past five years, Gaby has been Head of Books at the Daily Telegraph. In that time, she has reinvigorated the paper’s literary coverage, been instrumental in its sponsorship of the Hay Festival, and profiled leading cultural and public figures from Toni Morrison to Boris Johnson. She will be leaving her Telegraph post at the end of June, but will continue to write for the paper.
Gaby is the author of Edison’s Eve, a history of automata that was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the US. She has contributed to a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the London Review of Books, American Vogue and Granta. Before her arrival at the Telegraph, she worked at the Observer for 15 years, seven of which were spent in New York.
Gaby was a judge for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, the year when Julian Barnes won with The Sense of An Ending. She has also sat on judging panels for Granta’s once-in-a-decade list of Best of Young British Novelists; the Jerwood Award for non-fiction; the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; and the Bookseller Awards. She is regularly asked to comment on radio and television, for programmes such as Newsnight, Front Row, Woman’s Hour and the BBC News at Ten. Her academic background is in modern languages; she speaks Spanish and French.
Gaby will take over full responsibility for the Man Booker Prize at the conclusion of this year’s prize, for which her father, Michael Wood, is chairman of the judges. The literary direction of the 2015 prize will in the interim be handled by Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the Man Booker International Prize and Books and Arts Editor of The Economist.
Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, comments,
‘This is an exciting appointment. Gaby will bring new perspectives while maintaining our mission to bring the best of contemporary literary fiction to an ever widening international audience.
‘Ion was aware of our intentions and shared our great enthusiasm at the prospect that Gaby would succeed him.’
Image courtesy of the Man Booker Prize