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British publishers call for banning American authors from Man Booker Prize

British publishers call for banning American authors from Man Booker Prize
American author George Saunders speaks after winning the 2017 Man Booker Prize (AFP/Getty Images)

Thirty British publishers have signed a letter urging the foundation behind the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, to exclude American writers from consideration.

The Guardian reports that the publishers want to reverse a rule change announced in 2014 that opened the award to any novel published in English. Before that, only writers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations were eligible for the prize.

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The letter, which as of Friday had not yet been sent to the Booker Prize Foundation, argues that including American authors is leading to "a homogenized literary future."

"The rule change, which presumably had the intention of making the prize more global, has in fact made it less so, by allowing the dominance of Anglo-American writers at the expense of others; and risks turning the prize, which was once a brilliant mechanism for bringing the world's English-language writers to the attention of the world's biggest English-language market, into one that is no longer serving the readers in that market," the letter reads in part.

Americans have won half of the Booker Prizes awarded since the rule change. Paul Beatty prevailed in 2016 for "The Sellout," and George Saunders won the following year for "Lincoln in the Bardo." The 2015 winner, Marlon James, is a Jamaican writer who lives in the United States.

The letter was not meant to be public. The award's organizers have already responded in a statement published on the Booker Prize website.

"The Man Booker Prize expanded in 2014 to allow writers of any nationality, regardless of geography, to enter the prize providing that they are writing in English and published in the UK," the statement reads. "The rule was not created specifically to include American writers."

The foundation also pushed back against the letter writers' claim that the rule change has led to a decrease in diversity among the finalists and winners.

"The 2014, 2015 and 2016 shortlists all included four (of six) non-US writers, and the 2014 and 2015 prizes were won by an Australian and Jamaican author respectively," the foundation said. "Moreover, clear trends cannot be drawn from a mere four years of data."

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