Hello Gentle Reader
In two-thousand and fourteen the Booker Prize, had shifted its focus and inclusion policies, to allow for American writers to compete for the prize alongside, writers from the United Kingdom, as well as the old Common Wealth; which includes but is not limited to: Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The decision of inclusion was not without its cheers of support; but it had just as many jeers of criticism – my voice included in the later of the two categories.
Now the controversy has been reignited by Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes, who has stated that the decision to include American writers along with ‘heavy hitters,’ was daft and would deplete and overshadow the chances of others. Barnes would elucidate upon his comments by stating:
“The idea of [the Booker] being Britain, Ireland, the old Commonwealth countries and new voices in English from around the world gave it a particular character and meant it could bring on writers. If you also include Americans – and get a couple of heavy hitters – then the unknown Canadian novelist hasn’t got a chance.”
This comes around just as this year’s award went to: Paul Beatty, for his uncomfortably satirical dark comedy of a novel “The Sellout,” which discusses racism in modern day America; the novel most certainly would hit home with greater poignancy and potency, with the election and Donald Trump’s win.
Barnes comes could not be more relevant; despite being a few years late in the game, with the Booker Prize’s inclusive policy. Criticism of the decision, where aimed at the Booker Prize grasping at straws to attempt to retain some relevancy in today’s literary world, and book market. By including the prize to American writers, the Booker Prize will see itself enter new markets, and obtain a greater readership as well. Yet, the decision was not without its controversy, which rebounds now with Barnes comments.
Since the inclusion of American writers, in two-thousand and fourteen – only one American has won the award (Paul Beatty); but the controversy and the subsequent debate has been reignited by Barnes’s comments, including this one:
“Which American prizes are open to Brits? In theory, I think only the National Book Award is. I don’t think any Brit has won a major American award for years.”
Much like Julian Barnes and other critics of the Booker – I doubt, we will see the Pulitzer Prize open its doors to being more inclusive of other writers, from the English language.
Many other writers however have given their support to Barnes’s comments. Dame A.S. Byatt’s spokesperson had stated that she: “agrees with everything Julian Barnes has about this.” Susan Hill a judge for the award back in two-thousand and eleven, also added her void to the chorus. She believes Barnes’s comments hold a great deal of weight; and mentioned with the inclusion of American writers, that the “dice are now loaded against UK authors.” Though it should be noted it’s not just loaded against writers from the United Kingdom, it pushes Canadian, Irish, South African, Australian, and New Zealand writers back further as well; as the playing field becomes more saturated by American writers and publishers.
Philip Hensher also reiterates his predications for the Booker Prize’s downfall back in two-thousand and thirteen:
“It is hard to see how the American novel will fail to dominate. Not through excellence, necessarily, but simply through an economic superpower exerting its own literary tastes, just as the British empire imposed the idea that Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived throughout its 19th-century colonies”
Though it could be fair to state, that the prize has not completely fall into oblivion and been destroyed by any repair. The last two winners: Marlon James, “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” and Paul Beatty, “The Sellout,” – both share an independent publisher: Oneworld; who has reached greater audience by producing some very intelligent and unique literary novels, which generally go overlooked or are denied by bigger mainstream publishers.
Yet doom and gloom still fills the atmosphere of the Booker Prize, as it grasps for a life boat to remain relevancy in the literary world; but also must come to terms that in numerous occasions of the past, it has overlooked great novels, in favour of old favourites, or more established writers; perhaps with the exception of Marlon James and Paul Beatty. But if the Booker Prize is to retain its relevancy and gather more of it, to live up to its grand name and illustrious heritage; it should continue on the path of awarding newer more vibrant talent, which are just becoming into their skin and into their pens, as their novels are trying to be published and their work trying to find readers in which to appreciate their voices, their themes, their messages, and their views.
The Booker Prize may not be dead. It may be trying to reinvent itself; renovate the house; clean up a bit around the corners, in which to gather greater support and readership; but by doing this is not by awarding already established writers, or opening the award up to American writers. To truly gather some greater support, and to put oneself up as a literary coinsure of contemporary tongues and taste, one needs to look for the newly arriving stars, the small flicker of a starving literary talent on the cusp of success or complete and utter failure. It’s time to champion the new, the up and coming, the reinvigoration and reigniting of the literary novel and steward those authors and their success.
Yet, Will Self put it best with the Booker Prize (and all literary prizes), when he showcased his complete indifference towards the award:
“Pets win prizes. It hardly matters if they’re Boston terriers or British bulldogs, the important thing is that prizes have come to dominate the literary world because they’re effective marketing tools in a cultural era in which genuine literary criticism and judgment has given way to febrile consumerism.”
For now though Gentle Reader, I do hope to a degree the Booker Prize continues to find new novels, emerging talent, and new writers in which to award the prize to, just as they have with Marlon James (and yes) Paul Beatty, who have tackled interesting issues, albeit controversial ones at times as well.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
And As Always
Stay Well Read
For more on this please see the following links to “The Guardian,”