Apologies to whatever readers I may have left; I’m very much in the weeds these days and the expectations of academia are doing their best to separate me from the fun and spontaneity that are necessary for blogging. But I’m fighting the good fight.
For starters, there’s been interesting news in the literary competition world this week: the Man Booker Prize, longtime bastion of English English prose, is opening its gates to U.S. writers. Since 1968, the award—originally the Booker-McConnell Prize—has restricted entry to authors hailing from the Commonwealth, Ireland, and Zimbabwe. But as of the new batch of books jockeying for inclusion in 2014, the Booker Prize Foundation has decided to cast their net just a bit wider. They’ve cited a number of reasons: the global marketplace, the warm and fuzzy desire to be inclusive, the wish that someone other than Hilary Mantel win it. (Just kidding about that last one. As far as I’m concerned, if she keeps writing ‘em she can keep winning ‘em.) As Chairman Jonathan Taylor explained in Wednesday’s statement,
The Trustees have not made this decision quickly or lightly. It was made after extensive investigation and evaluation with the help of specialist independent consultants’ research and consultation began in 2011.
And… really? Specialist independent consultants? So much for my cherished picture of the Booker trustees raising a sloppy pint together in their local and toasting the American writers. I guess when there’s £50,000 at stake, you don’t do much without a focus group.
Eligible novels will still need to have been published in the U.K. and submitted by a British publisher. But given the fluidity of English-language work being published on both sides of the Atlantic, that ought not to be a stumbling block for authors writing under the auspices of larger publishers. What it will do, of course, is effectively shut out good work being published by indie presses, but hey—it’s the Booker. It needs to keep some of its pretensions intact, even if it is letting Yanks in the door.
Fortunately, there are lots of other international literary awards that look to small and indie publishers for their long list.
Well—no there aren’t. Though keep an eye on the nominees, later this month, for the new Folio Prize. With its self-stated emphasis on literary—rather than, you know, popular—fiction, it seems to be setting itself up as the anti-Booker. Then again, the Folio Prize Academy isn’t going to throw its £40,000 at just any scrubby upstart. I’m interested to see how that will play out, and I’m looking forward to seeing their nominees later this month (especially in light of the National Book Award’s recently announced longlist, which is disappointingly low on indie picks this year).