As we reported here in September, there will be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018. Following a series of cover-ups, discrediting disclosures and allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, the board was taking a hiatus. In its place, a New Academy organized to award an Alternative Nobel this year, with input from the public.
Today, we are delighted to announce that Guatemalan author Maryse Condé has been awarded the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize!
The author of some 20 novels, Condé is renown for providing a voice for those who have been silenced by politics, poverty, and history. The chair of judges Ann Pålsson noted of her contribution to literature, “She describes the ravages of colonialism and the post-colonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming…The dead live in her stories closely to the living in a … world where gender, race and class are constantly turned over in new constellations.”
As reported by The Guardian, Condé said she was “very happy and proud” to win the award. “But please allow me to share it with my family, my friends and above all the people of Guadeloupe, who will be thrilled and touched seeing me receive this prize,” she said. “We are such a small country, only mentioned when there are hurricanes or earthquakes and things like that. Now we are so happy to be recognised for something else.”
Conde will win about £87,000 raised from crowdfunding and donations, and will receive the prize at a ceremony on 9 December, one day before the Nobel banquet.
It is our honor to congratulate Maryse Condé on her award, and thank her for a lifetime of stories, honest, and compassion.
As we reported here previously, there will be no 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature. A number of wide-ranging allegations going back some twenty years were brought against Jean-Claude Arnault, a photographer who is married to Nobel academy member Katarina Frostenson, which the Academy failed to handle, and refused to address after the story broke, resulting in a large number of panel members refusing to take part in the award. Additionally, suspicions of financial conflicts of interest and the alleged leaking of the names of seven Nobel literature laureates in advance further tarnished the reputation of the Academy and its award.
We mourn for those who have suffered as the result of predatory behavior, and the refusal of those with the power to effect change to step up. In a different way, we also grieve for the loss of a 2018 Nobel Prize Winner, mostly because it allows us a moment to reflect on a life time of literary output and contributions to our worldwide reading society. However, all hope is not lost, in part because Librarians Are Awesome.
As reported by The New York Times, Swedish journalist Alexandra Pascalidou, enraged by the unfolding sex scandal, decided to take matters into her own hands. So she started her own award. Ms. Pascalidou, with the help of over 100 prominent Swedish cultural figures, including actors, novelists and a rapper, founded the New Academy Prize in Literature. The prize will award one million kronor, or around $112,000 to the winning author, and a banquet will be held in their honor, just as is held by the Nobel Prize itself. As stated in the award’s opener, “In a time when human values are increasingly being called into question, literature becomes an even more important counterforce to stop the culture of silence and oppression.”
Online voting for the award, which selected three of the four shortlisted authors, closed on August 14. The final shortlisted author will be chosen by Sweden’s librarians. The rules of awards enforce a gender quota on the shortlist stage, stipulating that it comprises two men and two women. On August 30, the shortlist was announced. We present it below with the short bio offered on the award’s website. Click on the author’s name to get links to the NOBLE catalog and see their work:
Maryse Condé Born 1937 in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Maryse Condé is considered one of the Caribbean’s most outstanding authors. She has written some twenty novels and received several prestigious awards. She has been an Emeritus Professor at Columbia University, New York, but now lives in Guadeloupe and France. In her work, she has described how colonialism has changed the world and how those affected take back their heritage.
Haruki Murakami Born 1949 in Kyoto, Haruki Murakami has lived in the US and currently resides in Tokyo. He is one of our most celebrated authors and translators. His work fuses pop culture with a fierce magic realism. He has received several prestigious international awards and is also mentioned as a Nobel Prize-candidate.
Kim Thúy Born 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam, Kim Thúy left her country as a boat refugee when she was ten years old and grew up in Canada. She is known for her short and elegant stories about being a refugee and an immigrant. Her stories paint the colors of Vietnam and the scents and flavors too, as well as the perils of exile and search for identity.
Neil Gaiman Born 1960 in Portchester, England, Neil Gaiman currently lives in Wisconsin, USA. He is a screen writer, author and editor who started his career as a journalist. His graphic novel Sandman was a huge success only outranked by Superman and Batman in sold copies. He has received several international awards and is a true superstar in the fantasy community.
The only real drawback to this story is the way the media has covered the announcement of the short list. Gaiman and Murakami were mentioned in headlines across the United States and Europe. Twitter erupted with the news of two beloved male authors being nominated. But the female nominees were only listed in secondary and tertiary paragraphs (to be fair, both men called out reporting, as did a sizable online readership). Considering the reason that the award was developed in the first place–as a result of sexual abuse and the sidelining of (largely women) victims’ pain–and by whom–a determined and pioneering woman, it’s really disappointing that the spotlight wasn’t big enough to encompass all four writers equally.
Last week, we addressed the #MeToo movement in the literary world by focusing on some of the headlines and debates that were taking place regarding the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the revelations regarding Junot Diaz. Today, we thought we’d take a look into the literary implications of #MeToo, and the way the movement is changing how we read and write fiction.
Not surprisingly, perhaps the most prominent field where such changes have been occurring is romance, where issues of consent and power have always been debated and discussed pretty prominently. Now, as The Guardian observed, we see workplace romances getting reconsidered, and the consent being made extra-explicit and enthusiastic (by a number of authors, if not across the genre as a whole). And that is terrific. As I reader, I have long been awaiting a turn in the genre to something more out-and-out progressive, feminist, and focused on fulfillment.
But it seems that other genres have been thinking hard about the portrayal of women in literature, as well. The Hugo Awards for science fiction have been honoring the achievements of women and people of color for several years now, despite some highly-publicized campaigns to derail those efforts. The establishment of the Staunch Book Prize launched a wide-reaching and generally thoughtful debate about how we treat out female characters, why we hurt them, and what we can do about it. Heck, there is even an opera due for release in the UK this summer focusing on the victims of Jack the Ripper, in order to restore humanity to women who have been historically described by their gruesome deaths.
But have such sentiments actually translated into our literature? To an extent…yes. The world of publishing is not quick to react at the very best of times, and it will most likely be some time before the paradigm shift that the #MeToo movement has been establishing will be truly reflected in the books we read across genres. But I’ve been noticing a trend over the past few years, as discussions and debates surrounding women’s issues, women’s lived experiences, and the intersectional problems that people of color, LGBTQIA people, working-class people, and people with disabilities face on a daily basis in our world have grown in prominence–stories are, in fact, beginning to change. It sometimes subtle–and sometimes it isn’t at all, and that’s super, too. But it is there. So if you are looking for some works that are tackling issues of power, abuse, identity, and truth-telling, here are some ideas from around the world of fiction. Some of these books are overtly speaking to the current cultural moment, and some are merely reflecting on them in a way, but all of them, in their own way, are acknowledging that it’s time to think outside the proverbial box–and we are all the better for it.
Note: This is not to say that older books have not tackled these issues. They absolutely have. See Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, or Barbara Vine’s A Dark Adapted Eye. But this is a round-up of a few new books that reflect some of the positive changes and debates taking place in fiction right now.
The Nowhere Girls:Amy Reed’s novel is at once a wonderfully fulfilling coming-of-age, misfits-united novel, and a searing indictment of the rape culture in which these characters are growing up. Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal; Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who yearns for a life outside of their plans; Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, both of which help her cope with her concern that she might be an android. When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students. This is a story with worlds of positive representation, from queer characters to female characters with autism-spectrum conditions, from religious and cultural difference to debates about sex and feminism–but it’s also one heck of a compelling read, especially as these Nowhere Girls lead a crusade for justice that is as applicable to the world outside the book as it is to them.
Anatomy of a Scandal: Sarah Vaughan uses all the insight and nuance she gathered during her career as a journalist in this story about political scandals, accusations, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to endure. The novel focuses on Sophie and her husband James. In Sophie’s eyes, James is the model of a good man–a caring father, a devoted husband, and a highly successful politician. But then James is accused of rape, and Kate Woodcroft is appointed by the Crown to prosecute him. Kate is convinced that James is guilty, and is willing to bring all her legal expertise to this fight to bring him down. But as this story unfolds, with the help of flashbacks and shifting narrative voices, we as readers are shown that no actions are isolated, and that all actions and all choices have tremendous impact, far into the future. Vaughan is especially talented at crafting her female characters. Sophie and Kate could not be more different, but they are both nuanced, compelling, and, in their own way, sympathetic characters, which makes their journeys in this book uniquely harrowing and suspenseful. A top-notch courtroom drama as well as a pertinent look into the effects of power and privilege, this is a psychological thriller that fits in beautifully with our current real-world debates.
Fellside: This book is something of an outlier as a result of its age (it was published in 2016, which is by no means ancient, but what a difference a few years makes!), but M.R. Carey’s strange, haunting, and unforgettable novel deserves to be on this list for a number of reasons. At the center of this work is a heroin addict named Jess Moulson, who is facing life in prison in the isolated and, frankly, terrifying Fellside prison. Jess, we are told, is weak. But no matter how many times the characters in this book repeat this judgement of her, Jess quietly and repeatedly proves she is anything but weak. This is a story that repeatedly shows us the hopelessness of life, especially for those in prison–the ruthlessness of people who feel they have nothing left to lose, the craven violence of those who cling to power, obsession, greed, addiction…but this is also a story that repeatedly rejects those qualities in favor of hope. Bleak hope, perhaps. But hope. So, for its discussions of abuse of power, its emphasis on the integrity and dignity of those whose humanity is so often overlooked, and the intimate discussions about what penance, sacrifice, and love really look like, this book definitely deserves consideration in this discussion.
And also, there are a huge number of romance novels to add to this list…but in the interest of time, we’ll have to get to them another day!
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass