Lost in the news on Wednesday about the first batch of American nominees for the prestigious Man Booker Prize -- which, for the first time in the 46-year history of the award, has been opened to writers beyond the U.K., the Commonwealth and Ireland -- was that among the five Americans who made it on the longlist of finalists, four are Midwesterners. Albeit, transplanted now elsewhere. (We'll take it where we can get it.)
When the Book Prize Foundation announced last September that it was opening the field internationally to "celebrate and embrace" all authors, "whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai," it appears the group's choice of wording wasn't merely cute alliteration.
If you're keeping score: Of the 13 authors on the list -- which gets whittled down to 6 by September, then to one in October -- there was Lincolnwood native Richard Powers ("Orfeo"), Downers Grove native Joshua Ferris ("To Rise Again at a Decent Hour"), Bloomington, Ind., native Karen Joy Fowler ("We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves") and Minnesota's Siri Hustvedt ("The Blazing World"). The fifth American on the list is New Yorker (by way of Ireland) Joseph O'Neill, for his forthcoming novel, "The Dog."
What does any of this mean?
The Man Booker is always closely watched by the literary community, and also generally, like many awards, a bit mystifying: Last year's winner was Eleanor Catton, for "The Luminaires," a gargantuan, densely-plotted murder mystery so convincingly Victorian it could have been a lost Henry James novel.
But since the Nobel Prize people appear to be in no rush to acknowledge the United States, yes, let's take what we can get. And, yes, Ferris and Hustvedt (who is married to novelist Paul Auster) live in Brooklyn now, and Fowler and Powers live in the Bay Area.
But I have my fingers in my ears and I can't hear you.