Dhaka, Bangladesh
Alternative Nobel literature prize goes to Maryse Condé

Alternative Nobel literature prize goes to Maryse Condé

Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé has been announced as the winner of the New Academy prize in literature, a one-off award intended to fill the void left by the cancellation of this year's scandal-dogged Nobel prize for literature. Speaking on a video played at a ceremony in Stockholm, 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." The author of some 20 novels, including Desirada, Segu and Crossing the Mangrove, Condé is, according to the chair of judges Ann Pålsson, a "grand storyteller" who "belongs to world literature". "She describes the ravages of colonialism and the post-colonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming," Pålsson said. "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." The winner was announced at a Stockholm library - a stark contrast to the baroque splendour of the Swedish Academy - after a three-fold judging process. Unlike the secretive deliberations of the Nobel jury, the New Academy prize saw Swedish librarians nominate authors, who were winnowed down to a final four by a public vote, the winner decided by an expert jury. The initial four finalists had been reduced to three after Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami withdrew last month, citing a desire to "concentrate on his writing, away from media attention". Murakami is often cited as a frontrunner for the Nobel. The New Academy, backed by more than 100 Swedish cultural figures, was set up in response to the scandal that engulfed the prestigious Swedish Academy earlier this year, when it emerged that the husband of one of the academy members had been accused of sexual assault. The accusations prompted a wave of resignations from the Swedish Academy, with this year's award cancelled "in view of … reduced public confidence". The man at the centre of the scandal, Jean-Claude Arnault, was convicted of rape and sentenced to two years in prison in a Stockholm court last week. The Swedish-Greek journalist and author Alexandra Pascalidou, who helped found the New Academy prize, said she was not alone in feeling "embarrassed and frustrated" about the scandal. "Why was literature, why were authors, going to pay the price, be punished, for what they did?" she said. "So I started calling friends and colleagues and people I met that were crazy enough to believe, to have a vision, to think that we can change what we cannot accept." Pascalidou said that hundreds of libraries had nominated and almost 33,000 members of the public had voted for the prize. "That was amazing, and this shows the strength of collective effort. This shows there are so many people dedicated to culture and literature."

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