Organizers behind the Man Booker Prize — the most prestigious literary award in the British Commonwealth — announced a curious decision Saturday night. For the first time in the award's long history, American authors will be eligible to compete for the prize. Previously, only authors from the British Commonwealth (54 countries in all) were considered for the yearly award.
Every year, a carefully selected group of writers compete for the cash prize, sure, but the prestige awarded when one becomes a Man Booker winner is the real reward. Suddenly, you're a star. So why did the Booker committee give in and allow Yankee contention now? Per the Sunday Times:
The organisers increasingly believe that excluding writers from America is anachronistic. The Booker committee believes US writers must be allowed to compete to ensure the award’s global reputation.
There's an arms race in the literary award scene these days, and each has its own set of exceptions and limitations. There's the Man Booker, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and next year The Folio Prize will join the ranks, too. The Pulitzer and the National Book Award limit their considerations to American authors; The Folio Prize is open to "open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK." Literary analysts, like Michael Orthofer, are so far applauding the Man Booker decision and placing it head and shoulders above the pack:
For what it's worth, I think the Man Booker, like the Folio Prize, is on the right track: if you're looking for the best book, inclusiveness is better than exclusiveness -- so the awards that I think will be most hurt by this are actually the two strictly American ones, the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, both limited (in the fiction category) to American citizens. Since the Man Booker will now automatically consider many of the books eligible for these (as long as they are also published in the UK -- admittedly not a given, even for some recent NBA and Pulitzer finalists) and offer them much stiffer competition it comes out looking as the much more impressive prize.
But, with an award so steeped in tradition, we're sure the dissenting opinions will come out of the woodwork and into the British opinion pages over the next few days.