Man Booker prize trustees today defended plans to throw open the prize to a book written in English from any nationality, dropping the restriction that entries could only come from writers in the Commonweath.
Fears that the award would follow the Premier League’s lead and become dominated by foreign imports emerged after the Man Booker announced that its award would be opened up to all writers, including the vast wealth of American talent.
In a major global expansion of the fiction prize, first awarded in 1969, from 2014, eligibility will be expanded to include all novels originally written in English, by authors of any nationality, which are published in the UK.
The changes, designed to enhance the Man Booker’s international appeal, have been criticised by writers including Melvyn Bragg, who fear it will restrict opportunities for domestic authors and reduce the award’s “distinctiveness”.
But Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the trustees, claimed: “English-speaking players will be very strongly placed.”
The Booker Trustees said they hoped that opposition from UK authors would not lead to a boycott and insisted the changes had not been rushed through to counter the Folio Prize, a new literary rival, launching next year, which is open to authors from around the world.
Under new rules, UK publishers must choose how many international entries to include from their restricted allocation. If American authors displace British writers from the shortlist, “it would demonstrate that the best literary writing is currently in America,” said Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the trustees.
He added that the shortlist for the 45th Man Booker prize, announced last week, contained “only one clearly British author”.
Baroness Kennedy QC, a Booker Trustee, said: “The idea that the decision on who is meritorious in the field of English writing depends on what passport you carry is ridiculous. It’s almost like the border control agency has a role in this.”
Baroness Kennedy said she expects to see authors from Brazil and Israel competing, adding: “I can’t see why this change should be frightening to any writer who cherishes the English language.”