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Man Booker Prize For Fiction Goes To 'Milkman' By Anna Burns

Anna Burns, author of Milkman, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction on Tuesday.
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Anna Burns, author of Milkman, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction on Tuesday.

For the first time, a writer from Northern Ireland has won the prestigious Man Booker Award. The prize, given to works of fiction written in English and published in the U.K., was announced at a ceremony Tuesday evening in London.

The winner, Anna Burns, drew on her own experiences during Northern Ireland's "troubles" to write her novel, Milkman. The story is told through the eyes of an 18-year-old girl who is trying to avoid the dangerous attentions of a paramilitary figure known as the Milkman. Instead she becomes the target of rumor and gossip. None of the characters in the book have names. In an interview on the Man Booker website, Burns said, "In the early days I tried out names a few times but the book wouldn't stand for it."

Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judging panel said, "None of us has ever read anything like this before." He called it "a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humor."

The judges read 170 novels before settling on a short list of 6 nominees that also included:

Daisy Johnson, U.K., Everything Under

Esi Edugyan, Canada, Washington Black

Rachel Kushner, U.S., The Mars Room

Richard Powers, U.S., The Overstory

Robin Robertson, U.K., The Long Take

All the finalists, Appiah said, "take you so far from your comfort zone that you never entirely return."

The rules for the Man Booker Prize changed in 2014 when American authors were allowed to compete for the award. Last year's winner was American novelist George Saunders. Sales of Saunders' novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, increased by more than 1,000 percent, according to an official Man Booker prize press release. No doubt hoping for the same kind of kind of bump, Burns' U.S. Publisher, Graywolf Press, has announced the book will go on sale in this country on December 11, instead of next year. The winner also gets an award of £50,000 which is equivalent to more than $65,000.

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Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.