Is old mother England looking to bring American literature back under its wing?
Rumors flew this weekend that the Man Booker Prize may, for the first time, open up its competition to American novelists. Prize organizers are not commenting on the rumors, but plan to hold a press conference Wednesday to make an official statement about changes in the prize's selection process.
With a prize of nearly $80,000 -- also known as 50,000 British pound sterling -- the Man Booker is one of the most substantial literary prizes for a single work of fiction in the world.
If the rumors of its expansion to include American writers are true, it would seem that the prize hopes to become the pre-eminent award for a novel written in English, by anyone.
The timing of the changes at the Man Booker -- whatever they are -- is interesting. It falls just as the American National Book Awards is launching its first-ever longlist, a drawn-out process happening Monday-Thursday this week. Just a coincidence, or are the two awards lining up as rivals?
For its part, the National Book Awards addition of a longlist seems to be borrowed directly from the Man Booker Prize. Earlier this year, the National Book Awards announced several changes to its selection process, designed to capture more of the public's attention and imagination.
That's something the Man Booker has always been good at; its black-tie London gala is televised nationally in England.
In its first 44 years, the Man Booker Prize has been open to writers from England, Canada, Scotland, Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland, and Zimbabwe.
Some of those authors expressed concern that including American writers would change the nature of the prize. "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," Jim Crace, whose novel "Harvest" is shortlisted for the 2013 prize, told the Independent. "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.”
"Opening Booker prize to US writers seems to reduce light and air for all non US writers," tweeted Hari Kunzru, the British Indian novelist who now lives in New York. "We're not eligible for NBA, Pulitzer etc."
British watchers also note that the Man Booker's changes may be a response to the Folio Prize. The Folio Prize, which has yet to give its first award, was founded in 2011 in response to a perception that the Man Booker was catering to popular, rather than literary, tastes.