LONDON — The Man Booker Prize is Britain’s most prestigious literary award. But for the past two years, American writers have dominated the competition — and authors from Britain and the Commonwealth countries are none too pleased.
The crescendo of frustration may have reached a peak. A group that counts the literary heavyweights Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith among its members has fired a shot across the bow, demanding that the Man Booker Foundation reverse a 2014 decision making any novel written in English and published in Britain eligible for the prize.
Leading authors and critics from the group, the Rathbones Folio Academy, bashed the Booker’s policy anew this week, arguing that changing the rules had taken away the distinctiveness of the prize, which was previously limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth.
They also criticized the way in which the Man Booker, begun in 1969, had highlighted less well known and prominent literature.
“The Man Booker used to provide a point of focus each year for British and Commonwealth fiction, a sense that this had some identity-in-difference, and that British and Commonwealth novels were in some sense ‘talking to one another’ — as distinct from any conversation going on in U.S. fiction,” Tessa Hadley, a British author and member of the Folio Academy, said by email. “Now, it’s as though we’re perceived, and perceive ourselves, as only a subset of U.S. fiction, lost in its margins and eventually, this dilution of the community of writers plays out in the writing,” she added.