Shock as Man Booker prize plans to consider works by American writers

British authors say award will lose its distinctiveness and new talent will be ‘crowded out’

The British literary world has been stunned by news that the Man Booker prize is set to allow American writers to enter from next year, with authors questioning whether it would lose its “character” and even prevent the emergence of domestic talent.

The Man Booker, which currently allows entries from British, Irish and Commonwealth authors, is the most prestigious prize in British literature; past winners include Salman Rushdie, Iris Murdoch and JM Coetzee. 

It emerged on Sunday that novels by US authors would be allowed from next year for the first time. Jim Crace, who is on this year’s shortlist for his novel Harvest, said: “In principle, I should believe in all prizes being open to everyone. But I think prizes need to have their own characters, and sometimes those characters are defined by their limitations.”

A Booker spokeswoman declined to comment on Sunday but said some changes to the prize were to be announced as early as this week.

Mr Crace said: “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.”

Broadcaster Melvyn Bragg added that he believes the prize may lose its “distinctiveness”.

Susan Hill, who was shortlisted for the prize in 1972, and was on the judging panel in 1975 and 2011, said: “Not sure I can see a reason for this. Why can’t we have a prize of our own? But either way, pity the poor judges. They buckle under the strain as it is.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker in 1989 for Remains of the Day, said he heard about the move “a few months ago from someone very senior at the prize and the argument was that the standard hadn’t been high enough”.

The author said he was in favour of the move. “Initially I was rather ambivalent,” he continued. “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.”

A move to allow US authors to challenge for the £50,000 prize comes as a surprise as the Booker Prize Foundation literary director, Ion Trewin, appeared to pour cold water on the suggestion only last week. “It’s one of those subjects that’s always being discussed,” he said. “[But] at the moment we have no plans to start announcing some major change.”

Reports have suggested that the organisers find the lack of US presence anachronistic. The Booker may also be responding to the creation of the Folio Prize, which is open to all nationalities and will be presented for the first time next year.

David Lodge, who was shortlisted for the Booker in 1984 and 1988, said: “I think it’s very much a reaction to the setting up of the Folio Prize. But my concern is the sheer number of novels that become eligible. There would have to be some method for deciding which novels get put before the judges, and the Booker would lose its distinctive openness.”

The shortlist for the 2013 award was announced last week and Mr Crace was the only Briton. Critics fear it could become even harder for domestic novelists to get noticed once US novels are included.

Writers took to Twitter to complain about the move. Nikesh Shukla, author of Coconut Unlimited, said: “I think writers at my level will get crowded out of the market.” 

Stuart Evers, who wrote If This is Home, said it would have a “massively detrimental effect on British and Commonwealth literary fiction”. Will Wiles, author of Care of Wooden Floors, called it a “kick in the teeth”.

Responding to fears that British authors may struggle to win the prize, Mr Ishiguro said: “I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. But if it turned out that way, you’d have to ask why.”

Some suggested that this year’s shortlist had already paved the way for the inclusion of American authors as four of them live and work in America. One, Jhumpa Lahiri, is of Indian descent and was born in London. However, she is widely considered an American author.

What if? US novels that might have been in the mix

Year       US novels vs Booker winner                                                       

1969 Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut vs Something to Answer For by PH Newby

1973 Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon vs The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

1975 Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow vs Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

1980 A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole vs Rites of Passage by William Golding

1984 Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney vs Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

1985 The Cider House Rules by John Irving vs The Bone People by Keri Hulme

1987 Beloved by Toni Morrison  vs Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

1990 Rabbit at Rest by John Updike  vs Possession by AS Byatt

1991 American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis vs The Famished Road by Ben Okri

1992 The Secret History by Donna Tartt vs The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

1996 Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace vs Last Orders by Graham Swift

1997 Underworld by Don DeLillo vs The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

2000 The Human Stain by Philip Roth vs The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen vs True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

2006 The Road by Cormac McCarthy vs The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living