War of words results in rival for top literary prize

By Arifa Akbar

British author David Mitchell says the new Literature Prize 'will be a good thing.' Photo / Supplied
British author David Mitchell says the new Literature Prize 'will be a good thing.' Photo / Supplied

A group of prizewinning authors and literary aficionados are setting up a new book prize that they claim will capture the original spirit of the Booker and become its most formidable rival.

Among supporters of the Literature Prize are former Booker winners Pat Barker and John Banville, and the twice shortlisted David Mitchell, as well as Mark Haddon and Jackie Kay.

A source said several other former Booker winners had expressed support.

The award's advisory board said it would reward the best in quality fiction - a role it said was fulfilled by the Booker prize until its criteria were changed.

The first longlist for the prize will be announced next year and it will include American writers - unlike the Booker which covers Commonwealth countries but shuns the United States.

There is seldom a year when the Booker does not raise literary hackles, but it has never led to direct action until now.

There was fierce opposition to this year's shortlist and some went as far as to suggest an alternative prize that would recognise serious literary fiction, uninfluenced by popularity and sales figures.

Mitchell whose last novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, was longlisted for the Booker last year, welcomed the new prize.

"I think unequivocally that the Literature Prize will be a good thing," he said. "It's undeniable that in recent years the Booker shortlist has emphasised accessibility over artistry - to follow this trend was a stated intention of this year's judging panel.

"But Anglophone culture also needs an arena where the adjective 'challenging' isn't a dirty word, and I'm supporting the Literature Prize because it promises to create such an arena."

The new award's advisory board said: "The prize will offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition. For many years, this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly Man Booker) prize.

"But ... it now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement. We believe ... that the public deserves a prize whose sole aim is to bring to our attention and to celebrate the very best novels published in our time."

- Independent

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