The Man Booker Prize open to American authors – Now what happens?

Brisbane literary figures have expressed support for the Man Booker Prize’s decision to open the competition to any novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom.

The prize had previously been open only to authors from the British Commonwealth, and some literary figures in the United Kingdom have expressed concern that American writers will now swamp the field.

Novelist Phillip Hensher wrote this week in the Guardian that opening the Booker to American writers would eventually kill off the prize entirely, and predicted that writers will now have to write from a North American perspective to be noticed by the panel.

“The tendency was already at work in this year’s Booker shortlist, where a superficial multicultural aspect concealed a specifically North American taste,” he wrote on September 19th.

Where have past Man Booker Prize winners come from? Click here to see the interactive map.

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However, other literary figures disagree.

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton, whose novel “The Luminaries” has been shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize tweeted “I’m excited. Cross-pollination is good for everyone. The more diverse the mix, the more exciting & interesting the contrasts”.

Queensland State Librarian Janette Wright also expressed support for the Booker’s move to accept all novels published in the English language.

“I believe opening up the Man Booker Prize to all English language writers is an exciting development and will help give credibility to the Man Booker Prize’s claim of being ‘the most important and influential award for literary fiction in the English-speaking world,’” she said, quoting a message from Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation Jonathan Taylor.

“Opening the prize up to U.S. authors who publish in the U.K. can only enhance the quality of entries overall – that’s a positive for writers and readers everywhere,” said Wright.

Head of Creative Writing and Literary Studies at the Queensland University of Technology Sharyn Pearce agrees, saying that the idea of the Commonwealth has by now lost its relevance in terms of literature.

“Despite these heartfelt objections, I think in a couple of years we’ll barely remember that the Booker used to be open only to Commonwealth countries,” she said.

Professor Pearce said that although the way some prizes become “ghettoised” – that is, restricted to certain countries or groups of people – can become irrelevant, such as the Booker being restricted to Commonwealth countries, other gender and country specific prizes will remain important.

“The Stella Prize has been criticised by people saying ‘Oh, why do you need a women’s prize?’ but people here obviously thought there needed to be one,” she said.

Professor Pearce said the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, will also remain an important part of the Australian literary landscape.

2009 and 2012 Booker Prize Winner Hilary Mantel introduces her 2012 Booker prizewinning novel “Bring Up The Bodies”

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