Saturday, September 21, 2013
The Backlash to the American Invasion of the Booker Prize
LONDON — The Americans are coming, and the British literary world is not happy.
“It’s rather like a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate,” said Melvyn Bragg, an author and television host in Britain.
The Booker Prize for fiction, begun in 1969, was always something that Britain and its former territories could call their own, seen as a bulwark against the spread of the American novel, that globalized product of the world’s richest market.
The award — with its publicity, its paycheck and its immediate impact on sales — has been an important boost to the careers of Canadians like Michael Ondaatje and Yann Martel, and Indians like Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga. It has brought attention to novelists previously unknown and unpublished in the United States, and it has been an important encouragement to publishers of quality fiction.
This week, the chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation, Jonathan Taylor, said, “We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries” to become a truly international prize, as a result of consultations that began in 2011. The change could enhance the Booker’s “prestige and reputation through expansion, rather than by setting up a separate prize” for Americans, he said.