Lionel Shriver, an American novelist who lives in England, told a reporter recently that she was considering applying for citizenship here in her adopted country, in part to be eligible for the Man Booker Prize, which historically has been limited to citizens of the Commonwealth. She may be relieved to learn that she needn't take the trouble.
The Booker Prize Foundation announced on Wednesday that it would open the contest in 2014 to all authors writing in English, regardless of nationality. Jonathan Taylor, the chairman of the foundation, said in a statement that he expected the move to enhance the Man Booker's "prestige and reputation," adding that barring Americans and other English-language writers was "rather as if the Chinese were excluded from the Olympics."
As rumors trickled out before the announcement, some in the literary world warned that the expansion would dilute the character of the prestigious award. Jim Crace, who's on the 2013 Man Booker shortlist of finalists for his novel "Harvest," said the new parameters would offer a greater overview of English-language literature but would also result in a less focused prize. "I'm very fond of the sense of the Commonwealth," he said. "There's something in there that you would lose if you open it up to American authors." And Susan Hill, shortlisted in 1972, asked, "Why can't we have a prize of our own?"
But the Man Booker wasn't actually well focused before the shift in policy. It allowed writers from all 54 countries in the Commonwealth as well as Ireland and Zimbabwe - in other words, English-speaking nations plus some non-English-speaking nations (Cyprus, for example), minus the United States.
Three of this year's six shortlisted authors live and work in America. A fourth, Jhumpa Lahiri, resides in Rome but is an Indian-American who moved to Rhode Island from London as a child. It's silly that Ms. Lahiri was eligible for consideration but Ms. Shriver, who published a new novel this summer, was not. It's perfectly reasonable for Ms. Shriver to be allowed to compete in the future.Meet The New York Times's Editorial Board "