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Philip Roth wins Man Booker International Prize, sparks controversy

May 18, 2011 |  8:54 am

Philiproth_2010

Author Philip Roth won the Man Booker International Prize on Wednesday, but not everyone involved in the process was happy about it. The Man Booker International, which is awarded every other year to a writer for his or her overall contribution to the world of fiction, comes with a prize worth about $97,000. 

Roth has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize (for "American Pastoral"), has won two National Book Awards (for "Goodbye, Columbus" and "Sabbath's Theater") and two National Book Critics Circle Awards (for "The Counterlife" and "Patrimony"). He's also received the National Medal of Arts and, in March of this year, the National Medal of the Humanities. Clearly, he's found traction with American prize juries.

Not so in Britain. Man Booker International judge Carmen Callil, an author and founder of the feminist publishing house Virago, very publicly withdrew from the panel in protest of the decision to honor Roth. She told the Guardian, "He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe."

She continued, "I don't rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear that I wouldn't have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn't admire -– all the others were fine."

Callil, who will explain why she believes Roth is not a worthy winner in an outspoken column in the Guardian Review on Saturday, also said that "Roth goes to the core of their [the other judges'] beings. But he certainly doesn't go to the core of mine ... Emperor's clothes: in 20 years' time will anyone read him?"

In March, the jury announced 13 finalists they were considering for the award. In addition to Roth, British authors John le Carré, John Kelman and Philip Pullman; American authors Anne Tyler and Marilynne Robinson; Wang Anyi and Su Tong from China; Juan Goytisolo from Spain; Amin Maalouf from Lebanon, Rohinton Mistry from India and Canada; and Italy's Dacia Maraini were under consideration for the prize. In her upcoming Guardian column, Callil regrets that the award has gone to "yet another North American writer."

Head judge Rick Gekoski told the New York Times, "I am very regretful that she would go public in this way because I think it's disrespectful to the winner." He described Roth as "a novelist through and through."

Despite Calill's public objections, Roth joins the short list of Man Booker International Prize recipients. There have been just three others: Albanian author Ismail Kadaré, who won in 2005; Nigerian Chinua Achebe, who won in 2007; and Canadian Alice Munro, who won in 2009.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Philip Roth in 2010. Credit: Nancy Crampton / Handou

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