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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links