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Joshua Ferris, Siri Hustvedt among contenders as Booker Prize admits US authors for first time

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LONDON - The Americans have arrived in force for Britain's Booker literary prize.

Five U.S.-based writers are on the 13-book long-list for the prestigious fiction award, announced Wednesday.

This is the first year writers of all nationalities have been eligible for the Booker, previously open only to authors from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth of former British colonies.

The roster includes Americans Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt and Richard Powers, as well as Irish-born, U.S-based writer Joseph O'Neill.

Also on the list are Britain's Howard Jacobson, Neel Mukherjee, Paul Kingsnorth, David Mitchell, David Nicholls and Ali Smith, Ireland's Niall Williams and Australia's Richard Flanagan. No Canadian writers made the cut.

Some British writers have expressed fears that the change in eligibility may lead to U.S. dominance of the 45-year-old award, officially named the Man Booker Prize after its sponsor, financial services firm Man Group PLC.

This year Britons are still in the majority, and there is only one writer — Flanagan — from a Commonwealth country other than Britain. Only three of the nominated authors are women.

"After all the fears about a U.S.-dominated list, the number of British writers comes as a surprise," said Jonathan Ruppin, a spokesman for bookstore chain Foyles. "Although the absence of any authors from Africa or Asia is perhaps the more striking aspect of the spread of nationalities."

Philosopher A.C. Grayling, who chairs the judging panel, said that in a "vintage year" for fiction, the judges were looking only for quality.

"It didn't matter to us if they were written by men or women, by Americans or Australians or Brits," Grayling said.

"Fiction in English, no matter who written by, no matter where published, is now part of kind of a global scene. Fiction is fiction, and good fiction will always stand comparison with good fiction."

Bookmaker William Hill made O'Neill the early favourite to win with "The Dog," the story of a disillusioned lawyer, followed by Mitchell for decades-spanning saga "The Bone Clocks," which will be published in the fall.

A six-book shortlist for the 50,000-pound ($85,000) prize will be announced Sept. 9, and the winner unveiled at a ceremony in London on Oct. 14.

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Online: http://www.themanbookerprize.com/

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