London, Nov. 17: The British literary establishment, which is desperately eager to please the Americans, has come up with a ploy which would allow prizes to be given amid a blaze of publicity to writers from the US.
The organisers of the Booker Prize — past winners include V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy — are considering setting up a “lifetime achievement award” which would be open to authors from any English speaking country.
The Booker Prize is open only to English-language authors from the Commonwealth, which cuts out the Americans. The Booker Prize has been in existence for 34 years and is currently financed by the Man Group of City fund managers and brokers, who this year doubled the prize money to £50,000. Although American literary awards generally are not open to the British, the latter want to bend over backwards to massage American egos by nominating US writers for its prizes.
This would repeat the pattern in the film industry where British movie awards are heaped on Hollywood actors and films, however questionable their achievements or tenuous their link with the UK.
It is said that any Booker lifetime award would involve a complicated process to sift nominations from around the world. Judging, it is also claimed, would be similar to that for the Nobel Prize for literature.
It has been suggested that Rushdie could win a lifetime achievement award. This seems unlikely since Rushdie won the Booker in 1981 for Midnight’s Children and the Booker of Bookers in 1993 for the best of the winners over the previous 25 years.
Rushdie has enough of a high profile, partly for his personal life. His Midnight’s Children is being dramatised by the Royal Shakespeare Company in January. Nor does Naipaul need any further boost since he has won the Nobel for literature.
As for Arundhati Roy, she also does not require any further recognition.
Hardly a week passes when she does not give an interview to a British paper on how brave she has been in taking on the Indian political establishment. The author of The God of Small Things is now famous for not writing a second novel.
The lifetime achievement could be given to British authors who have been nominated for a Booker in the past but whose books failed to convince the panels. Beryl Bainbridge, who has been shortlisted five times, would be the prime candidate in this category. There has been no mention, though, of Rohinton Mistry, who has managed to get on to the short list three times but has never won a Booker.
It is possible, though, that American authors like Philip Roth, Norman Mailer and Thomas Pynchon could be honoured in future.
Not everyone is impressed with the idea of another literary prize.
“There are far too many prizes already,” said Giles Gordon of the literary agents, Curtis Brown. “It’s a ludicrous idea and Beryl Bainbridge has gained far more publicity for not winning the Booker than winning.”
However, the Booker Prize organisers would like to put their new prize on a par with both the Oscars and the Nobel. “The nearest analogy is a lifetime award at the Oscars,” one member of the Booker panel, which met on Friday to consider the proposals, told The Sunday Times.
Film stars who have won lifetime Oscar awards include Kirk Douglas and Clint Eastwood, neither of whom has won acting Oscars.
Among those who approve is Dan Franklin, editorial director of Jonathan Cape, whose authors include Rushdie and Martin Amis. “I also like the idea of opening it up to Americans,” he commented.