September 14, 2017

The 2017 Man Booker Shortlist is as American as half an apple pie


America, as seen from space.

When we last checked in with the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, feathers had been ruffled. Stiff British feathers.

It was 2016, and Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout, had just become the first American ever to win the award. It was great news for Beatty, for a number of reasons (that 50,000-pound prize, for example). Americans had only become eligible for the award two years prior, in 2014. Coming out of 2016, then, the Americans are one for three. Hey, not bad at all.

The decision to include American writers has some very real implications, and British authors like Julian Barnes (who called the decision “straightforwardly daft”), A.S. Byatt, and several others did not hesitate to make their thoughts known. Barnes commented at the time that:

The Americans have got enough prizes of their own. The idea of (the Booker) being Britain, Ireland, the old Commonwealth countries and new voices in English from around the world gave it a particular character and meant it could bring on writers. If you also include Americans—and get a couple of heavy hitters—then the unknown Canadian novelist hasn’t got a chance.

Another novelist, Amanda Craig, remarked:

The point is, Americans are not only different culturally but they have loads more support via creative writing programmes — they can actually make a living as literary novelists. We can’t.

A prize, or even just getting on to the longlist of a major prize, is not the difference between surviving and living but between surviving and not surviving, being published and not being published.

Points well made. Still, the decision holds, which means 2017 will very likely be a controversial year once again, especially in light of this year’s shortlist. Of the six finalist titles, announced yesterday, three are American. (2016’s shortlist, for comparison’s sake, featured two Americans, Paul Beatty and Ottessa Moshfegh.)

And now, without further ado, your nominees (plus a special “Wahoo!” for What We Do Now contributor George Saunders. Wahoo,” George!)



Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.