Man Booker Prize opens eligibility to writers worldwide

The Man Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary honours, is widening the field to allow more authors to compete for the venerable award.

Organizers announced today that the prize will extend its eligibility to include novels originally written in English and published in the U.K., regardless of the author's nationality. The change will come into effect for the 2014 edition.

"The expanded prize will recognize, celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai," organizers said.

To date, the £50,000 (nearly $82,000 Cdn) prize has been open to British, Irish or Commonwealth authors (whose works are submitted by their U.K. publisher).

"The trustees [of the Booker Prize Foundation] have not made this decision quickly or lightly. It was made after extensive investigation and evaluation," foundation chair Jonathan Taylor said in a statement.

"Initially the thinking was that we might set up a new prize specifically for U.S. writers. But at the end of the process we were wary of jeopardizing or diluting the existing Man Booker Prize. Instead we agreed that the prize, which for 45 years has been the touchstone for literary fiction written in English of the highest quality, could enhance its prestige and reputation through expansion, rather than by setting up a separate prize."

Two Canadians are among the six finalists for the 2013 Man Booker Prize: American-born Canadian Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being and Canadian-born New Zealander Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries. The winner will be announced Oct. 15 in London.

For days, rumours circled that Booker organizers were changing their rules to allow American authors into the fold, with vociferous debate both for and against the notion.

Those against blasted it, saying that the change would diminish the prize's distinctiveness. Supporters, however, argued that being more inclusive was a positive for the prize.

Incidentally, organizers also created a biennial honour — the £60,000 ($98,000) Man Booker International Prize — nearly a decade ago to celebrate a living fiction writer (who publishes in English) for his or her body of work.

Many commentators have noted that the Booker's worldwide expansion announcement comes months after the creation of a rival English-language fiction prize designed to celebrate writers from around the globe.

Announced in March, the fledgling, £40,000 Folio Prize (about $65,000 Cdn) is open to all nationalities and will present its inaugural award in 2014. The academy behind the Folio Prize includes acclaimed authors and critics such as Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Michael Chabon, Nam Le, Phillip Pullman and Salman Rushdie.

"Our intention was to fill a perceived gap, rather than to imply that others should adopt our model. The Man Booker's impressive reach, not least in the United States, seemed in part to be built upon its clear and distinctive parameters, so we are in some ways surprised by this decision," Folio Prize founder Andrew Kidd said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Still, it's important always to be open to change, and we welcome the fact that Man Booker has joined the Folio Prize in disregarding borders."

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