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September 18, 2013 6:49 pm
The Man Booker prize is opening up to all UK-published novels in English, bringing US and other authors into contention for one of Britain’s top literary awards.
Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation trustees, said the rules would come into effect in 2014. “We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries,” he said on Wednesday.
The £50,000 prize for literary fiction, launched in 1969, has formerly restricted eligibility to Commonwealth, Irish and Zimbabwean writers.
Ion Trewin, literary director of the prize, which was awarded last year to Hilary Mantel for Bring up the Bodies, said the organisers had been considering expanding the prize since 2011 in response to the growing internationalisation of the book industry. “New novels by US authors are increasingly being published simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.
The Booker Prize Foundation had not intended to announce the changes until the prize was awarded on October 15. But speculation about a move to allow US authors to compete had sparked criticism from some writers, who said it threatened the Booker’s distinctiveness and could lead to deserving but lesser-known writers being pushed aside in favour of big-name American authors.
Mr Trewin said this was a “glass half-full, half-empty argument”. “For British and Commonwealth writers who make the longlist, shortlist or win against increased competition it will be an even greater accolade than at present,” he said.
The Booker is also revamping the rules by which publishers submit books, partly to reduce the burden on judges. This year, 151 books are on their reading list; under the new system, that is expected to fall to around 130.
The number of books a publisher may submit will depend on how many of their works have appeared on the Booker longlists over the previous five years. Small publishers or start-ups with no past record will be able to submit one work – down from two under the previous rules. Those with five or more previous longlist entries will be allowed four submissions.
Mr Trewin said the new rules would favour literary achievement: “Should an independent or emerging publisher, publishing perhaps two or three literary novels a year, be allowed the same number of entries as a major household name publisher with a couple of handfuls?”
The Man Booker insisted the decision was not influenced by the creation of the Folio Prize, launched in March. The £40,000 prize was the first major literary award for which all UK-published writers in English would be eligible.
Andrew Kidd, founder of the Folio, said he welcomed the Booker’s decision to “disregard borders” but was surprised by the move. “Man Booker’s impressive reach, not least in the United States, seemed in part to be built on its clear and distinctive parameters,” he said.
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