The Booker Prize Opens Up To US Writers

The Man Booker Prize, the world’s most esteemed literary prize for a full-length novel written in the English language, is traditionally applicable only to writers who are citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. Founded in 1968, the Booker Prize winners and shortlist contenders have included such notable names as John Banville, Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, J. M. Coetzee, Roddy Doyle, Ian McEwan, Anne Enright, and Margaret Atwood, hailing from Ireland, Great Britain, South Africa, and Canada.

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To virtually all of the English-speaking world, it’s a highly-coveted prize, with the winner receiving £50,000 in prize money. Even for an author to be included on the shortlist or longlist is a tremendous honor, sure to secure international prestige and skyrocketing book sales. To publishers, retailers, authors, and booklovers the world over, Booker season is the most exciting time of the year, better than Christmas and summer vacation combined. However, to the United States, the one English-speaking country excluded from the Booker Prize, it’s practically unheard of. After all, we have the Pulitzer Prize to mark out our examples of literary excellence. We also have the largest publishing industry in the world, and consequently tend to ignore other countries’ literary clubs.

 

Salman Rushdie won with "Midnight's Children" in 1981.

Salman Rushdie won with “Midnight’s Children” in 1981.

However, this nonchalance may be about to change, as the organizers of the Booker Prize have just declared that, starting next year, US writers will be allowed into the competition as well. Many different factors have gone into this decision, mainly the decision that excluding the United States is both outdated and arbitrary in a global society; when writers who live and work in the United States as well as writers with dual citizenship have been shortlisted in the past, the fact that the rest of the country is barred from applying seems a flimsy technicality that goes against the standards of excellence the Booker Prize represents.

While this is a momentous occasion in the history of modern literature, there are plenty who aren’t pleased with opening up the competition to the United States. Melvyn Bragg, the British broadcaster and writer, expressed disappointment with the move, stating, “The Booker will now lose its distinctiveness. It’s rather like a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate.” David Godwin, literary agent of this year’s Booker contender Jim Crace, believes it will now be even more difficult for British writers to be acknowledged, and he believes, “The Booker should stick to its guns.”

Anne Enright won in 2007 with "The Gathering".

Anne Enright won in 2007 with “The Gathering”.

 

While it is reasonable to view this new development as a political move, that the Booker Prize is selling out to appease Big Publishing, it will also open the door to many US writers who wish to be internationally appreciated for their literary merits but who previously did not have the good luck to have dual citizenship or be a resident of a Commonwealth country. Diversity is a crucial aspect to have in literary circles, and opening up the Booker Prize to a new pool of writers will certainly take the organization in an interesting direction.

What are your opinions on the Booker Prize opening up to US writers?

 

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