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British Folio Prize announces its first, American-laden shortlist

Congratulations to the five Americans who appear on the first shortlist of the British Folio Prize. The shortlist, announced Monday, is eight authors long. In addition to the Americans, one Canadian and two British-born authors are on the list.

The fiction prize was founded after a dust-up in British letters. In 2011, Man Booker Prize judges said they wanted to reward a book for "readability." That set founder Andrew Kidd, managing director of literary agency Aitken Alexander Associates, off on his path to create a prize for books "that might first appear daunting."

In 2013, the Folio Society signed on as the prize's sponsor. The winner will get more than $66,000.

The five American finalists are Rachel Kusher for "The Flamethrowers," Sergio de la Pava for "A Naked Singularity," Amity Gage for "Schroeder," Kent Haruf for "Benediction" and George Saunders for "Tenth of December." Other finalists are Canadian poet Anne Carson for "Red Doc" and two writers from the U.K.: Jane Gardam for "Last Friends" and Eimar McBride for "A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing."

The judging process is slightly different from that of most existing prizes. Five judges are selected from a large panel of esteemed international writers dubbed the Folio Prize Academy. Its 190 members include Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, Man Booker Prize winners Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan, and several winners of the American National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

One of those, Michael Chabon, served on the panel of five judges, which was chaired by British poet Lavinia Greenlaw. British novelist Sarah Hall, Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, and Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le made up the rest of the panel.

Is having a strongly American shortlist good for an new British award? The award was founded with the intention of having broad scope, reaching works published internationally in English. The Man Booker Prize scooped that angle last year, however, when it announced it too would consider books published in English from beyond the U.K.

And Kidd was all smiles in the formal announcement. "The result is a shortlist of eight amazing books that range from classical narrative to prose poetry; from a ‘messy masterpiece’ to a collection of effectively flawless short stories," he said in a release. "It’s a list that ticks no boxes, balances the interests of no constituencies and will no doubt stir all kinds of debate. In the end it is, quite simply, the eight books that in the collective view of five brilliant readers were the best pieces of storytelling of 2013.”

The award will be presented March 10, following a preliminary Folio Fiction Festival March 8-9 in London.

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