I've only just spotted the contentious post blogger extraordinaire Damien G Walter made a few weeks back concerning the Man Booker prize. Leaving aside definitions of genre and literary fiction (see Nathan Bransford's considered opinion on this, by way of Vulpes Libris' recent analysis of Makine's Human Love if you were looking for a good starting place for a definition)--would Damien feel it was fair for, for instance, if Yann Martel walked off with the Hugo as well as the Booker for Life of Pi? I feel the urge to stand up for Booker a bit. American Gods (which did take the Hugo that year) is a great book, but in no way is it a Booker winner. Likewise The Graveyard Book, which won this year. (Stardust, however, maybe, and Sandman, probably.) The prizes, like the books, serve different purposes and stand for different things.
I agree to a good degree with Damien's assertion that the world of literary fiction is fairly closed to those of plebian origin. From Granta's Best Young British Authors 2003 I seem to remember all were graduates, and only two were not from Oxbridge, but this isn't the main point that Damien makes, and the Booker has a long history of casting an international net, even if it tends to fall on works produced by more academic writers. I’ve actually heard an editor at one of Britain’s foremost publisher’s for SF state he or she was sick of all the (I quote from memory) ‘wide-boy Cockney gangster wannabes’ being published in the SF field, so I suspect the problems lie more with attitudes among certain members of the publishing fraternity, rather than sitting squarely on the shoulders of a foundation based, let’s face it, on the promotion of reading and the enjoyment of good literature. And it's not as though there isn't elitism in the speculative fiction world. Damien himself is an alumni of Clarion. Horses for courses, comes to mind (or perhaps courses for horses.)
In the comment trail on Damien’s post, Stewart of Booklit is right to point out that it's unlikely there were very many genre entries made to the prize, and Damien is naïve to think that the Booker has a responsibility to invite such entries. Surely it’s the job of a publishing house to promote its books. They at least went far enough to publish my article on how overlooked SFF&H is by the prize a couple of years back. Maybe Damien should request the full list of submitted titles from Man Booker. I would be interested to see how many—if any—genre titles were entered.