2018 New Prize in Literature Finalists

By Ahrvid Engholm: The Den Nya Akademin (DNA – “The New Academy”), a private initiative organized among Swedish culture workers because there’ll be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018, has announced the finalists for the 2018 New Prize in Literature.

After nominations were taken from librarians, the finalists were selected by popular vote. A jury will select the winner. The prize is to be revealed October 12 and handed out December 9. The finalists are:

  • Haruki Murakami
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Kim Thuy
  • Maryse Condé

The New Academy is presently running a Kickstarter appeal to raise $27,318 to pay for the award ceremony.

It’s said to be a one-year thing because there’ll be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018. However, there are hints that if the scandal-ridden Swedish Academy can’t get their act together, there might not be a prize for 2019 either (and will The New Academy Prize step in for 2019 in that case?)

The New Academy was founded to warrant that an international literary prize will be awarded in 2018, but also as a reminder that literature should be associated with democracy, openness, empathy and respect.

In a time when human values are increasingly being called into question, literature becomes the counterforce of oppression and a code of silence. It is now more important than ever that the world’s greatest literary prize should be awarded.

The New Academy is a non-profit organization, politically and financially independent. It consists of a wide range of knowledgeable individuals. The New Academy works within the time frame of the Swedish Academy and in five different committees….

The New Academy will be dissolved in December.

Following weeks of internal bickering, sex-abuse allegations and a financial investigation by police, the Swedish Academy, the body that hands out the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, announced in May there would be two Nobel Prizes for Literature given next year, the 2018 prize and the 2019 prize. The decision was made on the grounds that the group was in too deep a crisis to choose a Nobel winner properly.

Since then, there has been more news about the “Old” Academy and the fate of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

On July 18, the daily Dagens Nyheter revealed a heated mail exchange between the Academy and the Nobel Foundation. The Nobel Foundation controls the Nobel Prize money and is worried about the Academy’s competence, reputation and legitimacy — especially the last two. They thus demand that the Nobel Prize should for the time being be decided by a separate Nobel committee in which no Academy member who has been compromised in the recent scandals may take part (say, Horace Engdahl…). Such a committee would have non-Academy members, maybe being a majority.

But the Academy says no.

Instead they want to elect four new members this autumn (if they can, with only 10 active members) and continue as before.

This is a serious conflict, because the Nobel Foundation has the money and the power to remove the Prize from the Academy. It has been suggested it may be taken over by the The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, as the lengthy English name goes (Vitterhetsakademin in Swedish), a body of circa 60 scholars including many in the field of literature and language. This would be possible since Alfred Nobel only stipulated the body to be “the Academy in Stockholm,” where Vitterhetsakademien also is situated.

At the same time, we had the “Summer” talk by the former permanent secretary Sara Danius on Swedish Radio. The radio show “Sommar” (Summer) is a very popular – millions of listeners – show where a celebrity talks for 1.5 hour and plays his/her favourite music. She of course talked about the Academy crisis, for instance quoting the support (including from Horace Engdahl!) she got when she suggested to let a law firm investigate the affair last November.

And then Horace turned against her. And there was a lot of internal conspiracies that finally forced her to resign as permanent secretary and also as a working member of the Academy. She sounded very bitter in her radio talk: “History won’t be merciful towards Horace Engdahl,” she said. Her program is here, if you know Swedish: https://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/1077323

On top of this, the Jean Claude Arnault trial begins next month, the case against the man married to Academy member Katarina Frostenson who is charged with two cases of rape (other cases have been dismissed as being past the statute of limitation). This will put the Academy scandals in even more focus. The 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature has been cancelled because of this mess, but it’s not certain that there will be a 2019 prize either.

Then, in August, the three members of the Swedish Academy who earlier announced they’d “quit working for the Swedish Academy” (Sara Danius, former permanent secretary, Kjell Espmark, and Peter Englund, also a former permanent secretary) said they’ll return to help the Academy elect four new members this autumn. This is necessary to reach the quorum of 12 (they were 10 active members, now they’ll be 13) which the statutes require. (See Reuters’ August 30 story — “Three members returning to scandal-ridden Swedish Academy”.)

At the same time they’ll drop – for the time at least – their earlier demand that Horace Engdahl must resign. It is unclear if they’ll come back temporarily just to elect new members or if they’ll return in full to work for the Academy:

They have stated that they will return to save this old institution, which has been ridden with scandals the past year (sex crime allegations against the husband of an Academy member, economic irregularities, leaks of Nobel Prize winners, members quitting, harsh statements and ultimatums going back and forth).

My speculation is that this move has probably come out of negotiations between the three and the “rump Academy” and that is was no big concession to withdraw the demands on Horace Engdahl. He has been so vilified in media already and that would seem like sufficient “punishment.”

As I’ve noted before, there are several people with old connections to the sf community who could be potential Academy members! These are Erik Andersson, Steve Sem-Sandberg, Inger Edelfeldt and Anna Gustafsson Chen. Especially Erik (praised translator of James Joyce and himself an author) who in the 1980s was a leading fanzine editor and fandom columnist. Gustafsson Chen is a sinologist who could replace Göran Malmqvist, who at age 94 could be expected to pack his suitcase any day. The other two are authors with long, acclaimed careers. But we’ll see who they pick. (A delicate question is if people they ask want to join.)

The sexual assault trial against Mr JC Arnault — who ignited the whole thing as his past caught up with him — will be held in Stockholm September 19th, 20th and 24th. Expect extensive coverage in international media.

5 thoughts on “2018 New Prize in Literature Finalists

  1. It seems to me that the Swedish Academy is hopelessly compromised. They don’t even want to be saved. They just want to continue on as before, with no real consequences for bad actors.

    No, “vilified in the media” is not a sufficient consequence for his active protection of sexual harassment, and that protection of sexual harassment grows out of his own sexism, ego, and cultural arrogance. Time for him to get the boot, and the rest of the Swedish Academy, too, since they don’t want to change.

  2. I think you mean the scandal-ridden or scandal-beset Swedish Academy; we’re the ones who are scandalized by their behavior.

  3. Thanks to all for the copyediting — I have made the changes.

    The question mark after Gaiman is what WordPress does when there is some kind of character or code it can’t recognize. When text is copied from an email or another blog post those codes may not even be visible until I publish my post and WordPress burps. After all this time I still tend not to do a final review for those question marks — I’ve gone onto the next thing, thinking “My work here is done!”

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