War of words: major authors launch rival to 'low-brow' Booker

Literature Prize will reward artistry over accessibility – and be open to American writers

Arifa Akbar
Thursday 13 October 2011 00:00
Comments

A group of prizewinning authors and literary aficionados have launched a new book prize which they claim will capture the original spirit of the Booker and become its most formidable rival.

Among supporters of The Literature Prize are former Booker winners Pat Barker and John Banville, and the twice shortlisted David Mitchell, as well as Mark Haddon and Jackie Kay. A source said several other former Booker winners had expressed support.

The award's advisory board said it would reward the best in quality fiction – a role fulfiled by the Booker prize until it shifted its criteria, it claimed. The prize, which will announce its first longlist next year, will include American writers – unlike the Booker which extends its reach across Commonwealth countries but shuns US authors.

There is seldom a year when the Booker does not raised literary hackles, but it never led to direct action until now.

There was fierce opposition to this year's shortlist and some went as far as to suggest an alternative prize that would recognise serious literary fiction, impervious to considerations of popularity and sales figures. There was particular outrage at the exclusion of Alan Hollinghurst's book, The Stranger's Child, which was longlisted but made it no further. Two debut novelists were among the six-strong shortlist, with the winner to be announced next week.

Mitchell whose last novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, was longlisted for the Booker in 2010, welcomed the new prize.

"I think unequivocally that the Literature Prize will be a good thing," the author said. "It's undeniable that in recent years the Booker shortlist has emphasised accessibility over artistry – to follow this trend was a stated intention of this year's judging panel – and that's fine, of course. But Anglophone culture also needs an arena where the adjective 'challenging' isn't a dirty word, and I'm supporting the Literature Prize because it promises to create such an arena."

The new award's advisory board said in a statement: "The prize will offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition. For many years, this brief was fulfiled by the Booker (latterly Man Booker) prize.

"But... it now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement. We believe... that the public deserves a prize whose sole aim is to bring to our attention and to celebrate the very best novels published in our time."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in