LONDON: No one but the jurors can say which of six short-listed books will receive the Man Booker Prize for fiction on Oct. 15, but what’s certain is that the Americans are joining the competition next year and the literary world is in an uproar.
It has been a week since the organizers of the prestigious prize for English-language fiction that had been reserved for writers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Commonwealth threw open the doors to Americans and authors from all other countries writing in English. Words of praise and dismay continue to flow.
A blog by British writer Philip Hensher in the Guardian was headlined: “Well, that’s the end of the Booker prize, then.” But a piece by novelist Sophie Hardach in the online edition of U.S.-based the Atlantic bore the headline: “Of course the Booker Prize should get more inclusive – because English has.”
“In my case, even though I live here, I’m married to an Englishman, I pay my taxes here, I’m published in the U.K., I signed up with a U.K. publisher and write in English – in fact my second novel is even set in London – I can’t be eligible for the Booker because I have a German passport,” Hardach told Reuters.
In the 40-plus years since the first award in 1969, the prize originally known as the Booker has helped launch the careers of a host of now famous authors.
From 2014 the prize will be open not only to the big names of American literature, but also to what some literary agents and authors in Britain see as a better-funded, more cohesive literary scene in the U.S., which has a host of prestigious prizes, such as the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, many open only to Americans.
“If anything I’m a bit saddened,” Lisa Eveleigh of the Richard Becklow Literary Agency in London said. “I don’t think writers get the help here that they get in America, and I don’t frankly think America needs it.”
“The prize is now widely regarded as the most important and influential award for literary fiction in the English-speaking world,” said Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation. “But paradoxically, it has not allowed full participation for all those writing literary fiction in English.”
There is, though, a line of thought which has it that the British prize, working with its former colonies in the Commonwealth, celebrates a common heritage that America rejected in 1776.
“For our authors it is impossible to win an American prize,” said Felicity Bryan, head of an Oxford literary agency, “... so it seems rather unfair to me that we should open our prize to them when they don’t open their prizes to us.”