The Americans are coming to storm Britain’s literary citadel.
Organizers of the Booker Prize announced Wednesday that starting next year authors from the U.S. – and around the world – will be eligible to win the prestigious fiction award.
Prize trustees said that starting in 2014, the prize will be open to all novels written in English and published in Britain, regardless of the author’s nationality.
Founded in 1969, the Booker has previously been open only to writers from Britain, Ireland and the 54-nation Commonwealth of former British colonies.
That has not kept the award – officially known as the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, financial services firm Man Group PLC – from becoming one of the world’s best-known literary accolades, one that carries both prestige and commercial clout. Past winners include V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Hilary Mantel.
Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the prize trustees, said the expanded prize “will recognize, celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai.”
“We are embracing the freedom of English in all its vigor, its vitality, its versatility and its glory wherever it may be,” he said. “We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries.”
Organizers said they had considered setting up a separate U.S. prize, but rejected the idea for fear of “jeopardizing or diluting” the existing award.
Books will continue to be submitted by British publishers and reviewed by a panel of judges.
The changes don’t affect the Man Booker International Prize, a lifetime achievement award handed out every two years and open to writers from around the world.
Among the six finalists for the 50,000 pound ($78,000) prize this year are several writers with strong U.S. ties, including Jhumpa Lahiri and Ruth Ozeki.
The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Oct. 15.
The Booker frequently attracts heated debate, and the expansion received mixed reviews from the literary world. Writer and broadcaster Melvin Bragg told the Sunday Times that it would mean “the Booker will now lose its distinctiveness. It’s rather like a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate.”
But Irish writer John Banville, who won the prize in 2005 for The Sea, told the BBC it was an excellent idea.
“But God help the rest of us,” he added, “because American fiction is very strong indeed.”