Expanding the field: the Man Booker Prize to accept submissions from U.S. writers

September 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Man_Booker_Prize_logoIn news that is sure to shake up the literary establishment, The Telegraph is reporting that in 2014, for the first time in its history, the Man Booker Prize will accept submissions from American authors. Previously, the award has been restricted to English-language books published in the U.K. and written by authors from the U.K., Ireland, and the Commonwealth. The Man Booker International Prize, awarded every two years, considers writers from around the globe, and is given for a body of work rather than an individual book.

Quoting a report in the Sunday Times, the Telegraph indicates that Booker administrators found the exclusion of American writers “anachronistic,” and that considering them will help “ensure the award’s global reputation.”

Writing on the Literary Saloon, M.A. Orthofer suggests that the Booker administration might have been cowed by the appearance this year of the competing Folio Prize, which considers work by English-language writers worldwide. On its website, The Folio Prize bills itself as “the first major English language book prize open to writers from around the world. Its aim is simple: to celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.” It will release its inaugural shortlist in February 2014.

The Booker rule change alters the landscape of the prize, which is considered one of the most prestigious literary awards in the English-speaking world, and is worth £50,000 to the winner. Even if publishers are restricted to two submissions, the relatively large number of books published in the U.S. will tend to crowd out those from other countries.

The change is sure to spark debate about the globalization of literary culture, and the utility of nationalist restrictions on prizes. In Canada, the three major prizes for fiction – the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award – confine themselves to books written by Canadian citizens (even those, like Patrick DeWitt or Eleanor Catton, who have lived the majority of their lives outside Canada). The Griffin Poetry Prize is the only major Canadian literary award I’m aware of with an international component; arguments have been floated for folding the Canadian and International prizes together to bolster the award’s perceived legitimacy.

At least one dissenting voice has already been heard in Britain. Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg claims to be “disappointed” by the move, which he says will eradicate the Booker’s “distinctiveness.” He compared the new rules to “a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate.”

This argument risks charges of xenophobia, but it would be ironic if, in an effort to be more inclusive, the new rule ended up turning the Booker into yet another instrument of American cultural hegemony.

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