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Booker Prize Opens to All English-Language Novels, Some U.K. Writers Less Than Thrilled

It’s official: Americans can now compete for a Man Booker Prize.

The Booker Prize foundation today announced it was opening up the award to any novel written originally in English and published in the U.K., regardless of the author’s nationality. After 45 years in which only authors from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries were eligible to win, the foundation said in a written statement that it was time to expand the competition.

“We are embracing the freedom of English in its versatility, in its vigour, in its vitality and in its glory wherever it may be. We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries.”

The long-rumored change is controversial, to say the least, and drew criticism even before today’s announcement. The Guardian on Monday published a story quoting author Linda Grant, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2008 for her novel The Clothes on Their Backs.

“‘There are two career-changing prizes, the Booker and the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer has this big market in the US, and UK authors are closed off from that. If the Booker is open to US authors it will create a huge imbalance. UK writers will have more competition for a career-changing prize, whereas US authors will have a new prize.'”

Jim Crace, who is on this year’s shortlist for his novel Harvest, was quoted Sunday by the Independent:

“If you open the Booker prize to all people writing in the English language it would be a fantastic overview of English language literature but it would lose a focus. I’m very fond of the sense of the Commonwealth. There’s something in there that you would lose if you open it up to American authors.”

Anticipating that the change could send submissions skyrocketing, the foundation is also establishing a somewhat complicated cap on entries based on a publisher’s previous longlisted titles. The foundation expressed confidence that the new rules will make the process, “slightly less challenging in terms of reading than the 151 books the judges considered this year.”