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“The impact of this is the same you have from any great work of fiction,” he added. “You think, ‘Wow! I’ve gone through experiences here. I’ve been made to ask questions and feel emotions.”
It is not the only unusual finalist, he added. The poet Robin Robertson’s “The Long Take,” about a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, is written in verse.
Mr. Drnaso is one of three American authors nominated for the prize, alongside Ms. Kushner and Richard Powers for his acclaimed ecological novel “The Overstory.” The Booker Prize has been surrounded by controversy since 2014, when it was opened up to anyone writing in English, and became dominated by Americans. It had previously been limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Commonwealth countries.
In 2016, Paul Beatty won with “The Sellout,” while last year George Saunders won for “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Since then, criticism has only grown. In May, a literary society that counts Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith among its members demanded the rule change be reversed.
Mr. Appiah laughed when asked if the nomination of the first graphic novel would distract from that controversy. Mr. Drnaso is American, he said, and the controversy could reappear if the shortlist, due in September, is dominated by Americans.
The nominees in full are: Belinda Bauer, “Snap”; Anna Burns, “Milkman”; Nick Drnaso, “Sabrina”; Esi Edugyan, “Washington Black”; Guy Gunaratne, “In Our Mad and Furious City”; Daisy Johnson, “Everything Under”; Rachel Kushner, “The Mars Room”; Sophie Mackintosh, “The Water Cure”; Michael Ondaatje, “Warlight”; Richard Powers, “The Overstory”; Robin Robertson, “The Long Take”; Sally Rooney, “Normal People”; and Donal Ryan, “From a Low and Quiet Sea.”