This afternoon in London, the longlist for the Man Booker Prize — the most prestigious literary award in the British Commonwealth — was announced, with, refreshingly, some new names in the mix. The judges of the prize call it "surely the most diverse" field in the more than four decades of the Booker's existence.
Clearly sensitive to charges that it's insular and elitist, the Booker committee is trying to broaden its reach beyond the London old guard, with writers like Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), Jhumpa Lahiri (who was born in London, is of Indian heritage and lives — where else? — in Brooklyn) and Tash Aw (Malaysia) replacing some of the standbys who made, in the past, the Booker seem to some like a hoary enterprise.
Seven different countries have writers on the list, and four of the longlisted nominees are first-time novelists: Bulawayo, Eleanor Catton, Eve Harris and Donal Ryan. The last debut novelist to win the Booker was Aravind Adiga, in 2008, for The White Tiger. The youngest of the nominees is Catton, of New Zealand, who is 28. The oldest is Crace, at 67.
Of the thirteen books on the longlist, only two are by authors who have been shortlisted in the past: Colm Tóibín, whose The Testament of Mary is up for this year's award, and Jim Crace, who said that Harvest — this year's nominee — is the last novel he will ever write. Another familiar name is Column McCann, whose TransAtlantic has not received as ecstatic reviews as 2009's Let The Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award. As the press announcement crows, "This year's judges, yet again, have shown themselves to be independent of fashion. Diverse doesn't quite do the longlist justice."