Man Booker Prize 'to admit US authors'

On the shortlist: (clockwise from top left):  Colm Toibin, Eleanor Catton, Ruth Ozeki, Jim Crace, NoViolet Bulawayo, Jhumpa Lahiri On this year's Man Booker shortlist: (clockwise from top left): Colm Toibin, Eleanor Catton, Ruth Ozeki, Jim Crace, NoViolet Bulawayo, Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Man Booker Prize risks "losing its distinctiveness" if it opens up to American authors, some British writers have suggested.

The Sunday Times reported American writers will be eligible to enter for the first time from 2014.

At present the literary prize only considers works by writers from the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe.

Booker organisers said "some changes to the rules" would be announced on Wednesday.

"The information which is currently in circulation is incomplete," said a spokesperson on Monday.

I suspect the idea to make American novelists published in the UK eligible for the Man Booker Prize stems from changes in the publishing and literary prize landscape. The industry is consolidating; authors are increasingly peripatetic; American and UK publishing lists are converging; and digital downloads don't respect borders.

The chairman of this year's prize highlighted this cultural shift by describing the shortlist as striking for its "global range". Edges have become blurred regarding an author's nationality. Widening eligibility would help iron out some of these awkward anomalies.

It would also help in defending the Booker from the potential threat posed by the recently announced Folio Prize: a new £40,000 annual award for literary fiction for which any novel written in English and published in the UK is eligible.

According to The Sunday Times report, "the organisers increasingly believe that excluding writers from America is anachronistic. The Booker committee believes US writers must be allowed to compete to ensure the award's global reputation".

The writer and broadcaster Lord Bragg was quoted as saying he was "disappointed... though not that surprised. The Booker will now lose its distinctiveness. It's rather like a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate".

Howard Jacobson, who won the prize with The Finkler Question in 2010 told The Telegraph it was the "wrong decision" but declined to expand on his comments.

Of the six authors announced last week on this year's Man Booker shortlist, four live and work in the United States.

Jim Crace, nominated this year for Harvest, told The Independent: "If you open the Booker prize to all people writing in the English language it would be a fantastic overview of English language literature but it would lose a focus.

"I'm very fond of the sense of the Commonwealth. There's something in there that you would lose if you open it up to American authors."

But Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker in 1989 for Remains of the Day, told The Independent he was in favour of the move. "It's sad in a way because of the traditions of the Booker, and I can understand some people feeling a bit miffed, but the world has changed and it no longer makes sense to split up the writing world in this way."

Next March the newly-created Folio Prize will hand out its first accolade. The £40,000 prize will be awarded to a work of fiction written in the English language published in the UK - including American authors.

The Folio Prize was first announced in 2011 amidst a row in literary circles about the decision by Booker judges that year to focus on "readability", but organisers have denied it is a rival to the Booker.

MAN BOOKER SHORTLIST 2013

  • NoViolet Bulawayo - We Need New Names (Chatto & Windus)
  • Eleanor Catton - The Luminaries (Granta)
  • Jim Crace - Harvest (Picador)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
  • Ruth Ozeki - A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
  • Colm Toibin - The Testament of Mary (Viking)

It is backed by a 100-strong academy of authors and critics which includes Margaret Atwood and Philip Pullman.

Speaking to The Bookseller last week, Booker Prize director Ion Trewin said the organisers had discussed changing its entry requirements in the past year, but would stick with the existing rules "for the moment".

He said: "The problem of non-simultaneous publication between the UK and US is one of the reasons why [we limit geographic submissions], because we are a contemporary prize making the award in the year the books are published. Admitting any writer who writes in English isn't easy while - even with e-books - still there is often a gap between the US and UK. It's the reason we haven't taken that step."

The winner of the 2013 Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on 15 October at an awards ceremony at London's Guildhall.

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