US authors' entry to Booker prize seen as betrayal The literary establishment sharpened its talons last night as Booker prize judges warned that plans to American ise the prestigious award would cause irreparable damage to a great British tradition. The prize, Britain's most sought-after literary award, was last month renamed the Man Booker prize in honour of its sponsor, the Man fund management firm. The sponsor swiftly announced that the 50,000 award, for Commonwealth writers only, could be opened to US writers by 2004. It has been four years since an English writer won - Ian McEwan with Amsterdam in 1998 - and Canadians, Australians, and South Africans have often been chosen. But to do away with a tradition of Commonwealth literary competition so near to the jubilee has irked academics. Lisa Jardine, a lecturer in renaissance studies, and chair of this year's judging panel, said the move to include US authors was a betrayal of British culture and heritage.
"The Booker will become as British an institution as English muffins in US supermarkets", she mockingly told the Times. "It will become more blandly generic, as opposed to specifically British. This will completely change the character of the prize". Prof Jardine said that judges each waded through 130 Commonwealth novels before arriving at a shortlist; the amount that would need to be skimmed and selected from America's output would make the prize unworkable. She also suggested that the tone and nature of British, Australian, Irish, and African entries would be undermined by the vast canvases on which US authors painted. "With someone like Roth at his best, I can't see how an Amis or a McEwan would touch them".
It was important Commonwealth literary voices were heard in a sacred space of their own that the Booker provided. Some might argue that the big hitters who have taken home the prize in recent year - the Australian Peter Carey, for the True History of the Kelly Gang, and the Canadian Margaret Atwood for The Blind Assassin - could hold their own against America. But it seems the Booker sponsor has a long way to go to convince its judges. The firm's five year 2.5 m sponsorship deal was made partly with a view to increasing its profile in the US, where Booker winners have a big readership. A spokesman said any changes to the prize would not harm its character, and a four person consultation group was debating any additions or alterations..