In 2014, the UK’s top literary prize, the Man Booker award, changed its rules. It had previously only nominated novels by authors from Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland. The rule change expanded nominations to include any English-language novel published in the UK.
This includes Americans, and therein lies the problem. In the four awards since the rule change, two Americans have won (George Saunders in 2017 for Lincoln in the Bardo, and Paul Beatty in 2016 for The Sellout). Richard Flanagan, an Australian, and Marlon James, a Jamaican, won the other two years.
Out of fear that the UK’s top prize for books is becoming too global, thirty UK publishers have signed a letter, The Guardian reports, which has leaked, addressed to the organization. In it, publishers say:
The rule change, which presumably had the intention of making the prize more global, has in fact made it less so, by allowing the dominance of Anglo-American writers at the expense of others; and risks turning the prize, which was once a brilliant mechanism for bringing the world’s English-language writers to the attention of the world’s biggest English-language market, into one that is no longer serving the readers in that market … [It] will therefore be increasingly ignored.
Essentially, the fear is UK-based writers will be sidelined by English-speaking Americans. Washington Post critic Ron Charles (an American) weighed in in a piece titled “Dear Britain, please take your Booker Prize back home.” In it, Charles makes the salient point that, by the time the Man Booker is awarded, American writers have already had plenty of opportunity to boast their accomplishments. Charles writes, “As flattering as it is for our nation’s novelists to be invited into the U.K.’s literary arena, Americans don’t need any encouragement to trumpet their own books. As a nation, we’re already depressingly xenophobic when it comes to our reading choices.”
The Man Booker Foundation has responded to the letter with a statement, saying, “The judges … are charged with finding the best novel of the year, in their opinion, written in English. The trustees believe that this mission cannot be constrained or compromised by national boundaries.” They further state four years is not enough time to gather representative data in terms of whether or not the award favors Americans.
What’s your stance on the continued controversy? It does seem appropriate for the UK to have a prestigious UK-centric award, in the same way America has the National Book Award. The Man Booker Prize was once an opportunity to see the best literature published in a certain region. Its message now is more broad, and, personally, not totally on board with it. Even though Lincoln in the Bardo was one of my favorite books of last year, George Saunders is doing okay in terms of being critically lauded—not sure he needed the 2017 Man Booker Prize. But what do you think?
Image Via Indian Express
Feature Image Via Good e-Reader