An Alternative to the Nobel Prize in Literature, Judged by You

A decoration in the room where the Nobel prizes are announced shows the medal that winners receive. The literature prize won’t be awarded in 2018, after a scandal in the body that judges it. Credit: Jonathan Nackstrand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The journalist Alexandra Pascalidou has spent months watching a sexual abuse and corruption scandal unfurl at the Swedish Academy, the august body that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature.

At first, she was upset. Then, as a Swede, embarrassed. But when the academy took the extraordinary step of canceling this year’s prize, she became a little angry, too. “I just thought, ‘Why do the authors have to pay the price for this mess?’ ” she said in a telephone interview on Friday.

That led her to another question: “How hard can running a prize be?”

Now, Ms. Pascalidou — with the help of over 100 prominent Swedish cultural figures, including actors, novelists and a rapper — has started her own prize. The winner of the New Academy Prize in Literature will be announced on Oct. 14, and will receive one million kronor, or around $112,000. There will also be a banquet in the winner’s honor, just as there would be for a Nobel laureate.

But there is one big difference between the prizes: You can be involved in this one.

Voting opened on the prize’s website this week with a 46-strong list of nominees, selected by Swedish librarians. Rather than the highbrow and sometimes obscure names usually touted for the Nobel, this list includes J.K. Rowling, alongside the singer Patti Smith, the British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman and the Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

There are also 12 Swedes, plus Zadie Smith, Donna Tartt and the French author Édouard Louis, 25, who is acclaimed for his books showing the brutal reality of working-class life in France.

Some authors who have been tipped for the Nobel are absent, such as the South Korean poet Ko Un and Salman Rushdie.

The voting, which closes on Aug. 14, will decide three finalists. Librarians will choose a fourth. A panel made up of a literature professor, two librarians and two literary editors will then choose the winner.

Ms. Pascalidou said the prize was not trying to replace the Nobel. In fact, the organizers plan to disband after this year’s ceremony. But she wants it to draw attention to what is wrong at the Swedish Academy, she said. “What we’d like to see is something new — a Swedish Academy that is contemporary, open to the world, inclusive, transparent.”

But she added that she did not expect the Swedish Academy to start involving librarians, let alone the public, in its decisions. “I don’t think they will adopt what we’re doing as these are people who express very elitist views on librarians. That’s very sad. Why do they think people in the academy are the only ones that know about literature?”

The Swedish Academy did not respond to a request for comment.

Ann Palsson, a book editor and president of the New Academy Prize’s jury, said that she wanted the prize to inspire people about books in the same way the Nobel once had. “We just want to focus on something positive,” she said.

By Alex Marshall, July 13, 2018, first appearing on NYT > Books
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Literature Nobel In Doubt Amid Claims Swedish Princess Was Sexually Harassed

Protesters gathered earlier this month outside Stockholm’s Old Stock Exchange building, where the Swedish Academy meets. Demonstrators showed support for resigned Permanent Secretary Sara Danius by wearing her hallmark tied blouse.
Fredrik Persson/AFP/Getty Images

by Colin Dwyer, May 1, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

If the crisis facing the Swedish Academy looked dire earlier this month, this weekend spelled still worse trouble for the 18-member committee responsible for selecting the Nobel Prize in literature each year. Already deeply roiled by sexual assault and harassment allegations against a prominent cultural figure closely linked with the group, the Swedish Academy found that his ledger of alleged victims has added one more very prominent name: Sweden’s heir apparent, Crown Princess Victoria.

Three witnesses told the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet they had seen photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, an influential cultural impresario in Stockholm, put his hand on Victoria’s behind during a 2006 event at an academy-owned property.

“He came lurking from behind and I saw his hand land on her neck and go downward. It was all the way down,” Swedish writer Ebba Witt-Brattstrom, who had been attending the event, later confirmed to London’s The Telegraph.

Witt-Brattstrom says a uniformed aide to the princess, who was then 27, “just flew herself” on the then-59-year-old Arnault. “She grabbed him,” Witt-Brattstrom added to the Telegraph, “and ‘whop’, he was gone. The crown princess turned in surprise. I guess she had never been groped. She just looked like ‘what?’ ”

Arnault’s attorney has told several media outlets he denies these allegations as well as the incidents of sexual assault and harassment alleged by 18 women in November.

His denials have done nothing to ease the turmoil wreaked on the Swedish Academy, of which Arnault’s wife, Katarina Frostenson, was a longtime member before resigning earlier this month. Questions about when and what the committee’s members knew about the allegations led several other members to resign before her, either in protest or because of the protests — including Permanent Secretary Sara Danius.

The controversy has even raised the prospect that this year it might be unable to perform its most famous duty, picking literature’s Nobel winner in October. The committee discussed the prospect of postponing the award last week “and came to no decision,” member Per Wastberg told The Guardian after the meeting last week.

He added that members would resume the conversation at another meeting this Thursday, at which point they will very likely reach a decision on whether it will be necessary to skip the prize this year and instead announce two winners in 2019.

If indeed the Swedish Academy decides to postpone the award, this would mark the first year since the depths of World War II, from 1940 to 1943, that no writers won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Another member, former Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl, downplayed the possibility to The Guardian — but the committee’s public statement last week made little secret of the “state of crisis” it is currently experiencing.

“Confidence in the Academy has been undermined, the number of active members is diminished, and there has been an unplanned change in the post of Permanent Secretary,” the group acknowledged.

It noted that it had already engaged an outside law firm to investigate the situation. The firm has found that the Swedish Academy violated its conflict-of-interest rule by financially supporting a cultural forum co-owned by Arnault and Frostenson and that there had also been “a breach of the Academy’s secrecy rules” relating to the Nobel.

 

The Swedish Academy added that another damaging revelation had also recently surfaced: that as far back as 1996, the committee had received a letter detailing an alleged sexual assault at the forum and had ignored it.

“The Academy deeply regrets that the letter was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges and possibly stop further reimbursements to Kulturplats Forum,” the group said. “The Swedish Academy strongly condemns sexual harassment and sexual aggression wherever it occurs.”

One potential problem for the Swedish Academy does appear on its way to resolution, at least. As we reported earlier this month, the committee’s bylaws have had no formal provisions for members to resign their positions, which are supposed to be lifetime commitments. Those same bylaws also demand a quorum of 12 members to make any significant decisions — like, say, changing the provisions on resignation and selecting replacements. All but 11 members have de facto stepped down at this point, leaving the academy in a rather tough bind.

But the group’s patron, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, stepped in earlier this month with the announcement he is planning changes that will facilitate resignation.

“It is a given premise of Swedish and international law that any person who no longer wishes to be a member of an organisation must be allowed to leave,” he said in a statement. “This premise should also apply to the Swedish Academy.”

British Writer Kazuo Ishiguro Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

Kazuo Ishiguro

by Lynn Neary, October 5, 2017, first appearing on npr: Books Blog

The Swedish Academy chose Kazuo Ishiguro as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, October 5. Ishiguro’s most well-known work is likely The Remains of the Day, a 1989 novel.

Click here for a transcript of the awards ceremony.