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Weekly Roundup: Reactions to the expansion announcement

Weekly Roundup: Reactions to the expansion announcement

Following Richard Brooks’ report in the Sunday Times (15 September) the literary world was up in arms over changes to the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.  Reactions have been mixed to the suggested changes…

Melvyn Bragg, author and broadcaster, said in The Sunday Times ‘I’m disappointed…though not that surprised.  The Booker will now lose its distinctiveness.  It’s rather like a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate.’

Sam Leith presented a more measured case for and against in the Evening Standard.  He said: ‘Organising a literary prize around the long-gone historical accident of a set of political and trading relationships doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The territory of the English novel is the English language.’ Although he did express concerns about the number of submissions the judging panel would have to read. If they were in increase, it would put a great strain on the judges to read every submission.

Howard Jacobson, when asked by the Daily Telegraph simply stated; ‘wrong decision, that’s all I’m going to say.’

Kazuo Ishiguro speaking to The Independent said: ‘Initially I was rather ambivalent…it’s sad in a way because of the traditions of the Booker, and I can understand some people feeling a bit miffed, but the world has changed and it no longer makes sense to split up the writing world in this way.’

Kate Saunders put things into perspective in The Times: ‘Could the British literary establishment please get itself a backbone?...What a fuss — you’d think Fortnum’s had been taken over by Walmart…Of course US novels should be included: they will only pop up on the shortlist as often as any other nationality, and we’ll all forget we were such scaredy-cats.’

The full changes were announced in a press conference led by Jonathan Taylor, Chairman of the trustees and Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation on Wednesday afternoon (18 September).  The press conference addressed many of the concerns that had been raised at the beginning of the week.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, speaking about the current rules, said during the conference: ‘It seems rather ridiculous, when deciding who has written the best book in any one year, that there is a kind of border control which prevents writers from competing, because of their passport.’

Cathy Rentzenbrink raised an interesting point in the Bookseller: "I can completely see that it is a bit of a heartbreaker for a previously eligible author to see an already unscaleable wall become even higher, but I think this is great news for UK readers—the people out there who are actually buying the books”

The changes to the rules will come into effect for the 2014 prize and will allow any author writing in English and published in the UK to be entered into the prize.  In order to keep submission numbers at their current level the entry system has been adjusted slightly.  Further details can be found here and you can watch the press conference on YouTube here.