By Isabella Biedenharn
Updated March 26, 2015 at 04:46 PM EDT
Credit: Valancourt Books

Martyn Goff, longtime mastermind behind the U.K.’s Booker Prize, has died at age 91 after a long illness.

Goff, who took over the prize’s administration in 1972, is credited with helping the Booker Prize grow in prestige for the three decades he helmed it, thus kickstarting the careers of many British writers. As John Sutherland wrote in 2002 when Goff announced that he was stepping down, “The current health of English fiction can be explained in two words: Martyn Goff.”

The prize first started to be taken seriously after Salman Rushdie’s 1981 win for Midnight’s Children. 2002 winner Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, wrote, “As a writer, the Man Booker Prize has meant a whole lot. Life of Pi is coming out in close to 40 countries and territories, representing over 30 languages, and counting. I now have the attention of the book-reading world. My creative act, conceived like a whisper, is ringing across the world.”

Said Booker Foundation chair Jonathan Taylor, “Martyn was a wonderful advocate and administrator of the prize for so many years. His contribution was invaluable and under Martyn the prize grew in stature and reputation, not least because of his tireless championing of contemporary fiction of the highest quality.”