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The Man Booker Prize goes global - in English

23 September 2013

The Man Booker Prize's decision to accept novels from American authors, providing that they are published in the UK, has been arrived at after a series of consultations lasting over the last eighteen months. How they could have expected to keep their ruminations quiet is not clear.
Many supported the change. Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury said: "I am in favour of the Prize broadening out so that the Man Booker Prize is identifying and celebrating the finest fiction written in the English language. I think it is very exciting that this year's shortlist is so international.'

Others have expressed the view that American writers are not at this point likely to dominate the shortlists. Leo Robson, writing in the Telegraph, said: ‘But the vision of American literature as wholly triumphant, an unstoppable bulldozing force, has proved oddly stubborn, the product of a failure to keep pace with reality. Updike, Heller, Mailer, Vonnegut, and Bellow are dead; Roth is retired; Pynchon, Didion, Ford, and DeLillo made their loudest noises long ago. American fiction no longer has the dynamic (and, it must be said, often macho) intensity it had in the second half of the 20th century...

How the Booker's new profile will affect British success in the prize is hard to guess. We don't yet know under what conditions American novels will be submitted. Certainly the prospect, for a British writer, of a whole new category of competition, whatever the nationality, will not be welcome. But to imagine that Booker juries will be engulfed by a wave of American genius is to exhibit an odd inversion of Cultural Cringe, whereby the former empire becomes falsely convinced that, compared with those of a successful former colony, its own achievements are piffling, irrelevant, and drab.'

Presumably it will still be the UK publication which determines which publisher submits an individual title. At the same time as making this change the rules have been altered to allow publishers only one submission, unless they have scored enough longlist successes to be allowed more. The rules are now quite complicated. Small publishers see this as making life more difficult for them and allowing fewer entries from that quarter.

Whatever the reaction, American writers will now be eligible for what is widely seen as the world's biggest literary prize, although the Nobel is worth more, and the Man Booker Prize has done a great deal over the years to support literary fiction. For the Orange (now the Bailey) Prize, this change invades territory which is already theirs and the organisers of the new Folio Prize may also feel that this change has destroyed one of the major points of difference, which may well have been what the Prize administrators intended. For readers, it seems to be a broadening of the list, which many will regard as a good thing.