The Alternative Nobel Shortlist: Democratic and Diverse

Haruki Murakami is the most recognised authors on the 2018 New Academy shortlist
Haruki Murakami is the most recognised authors on the 2018 New Academy shortlist | © Murdo Macleod
Photo of Matthew Janney
Uk Books Editor31 August 2018

The shortlist for the New Academy Prize in Literature – established as an alternative to the 2018 Nobel Prize after its cancellation – is proof that a public vote can help to democratise literature and highlight alternative voices.

The New Academy Prize in Literature has announced its 2018 shortlist, which features writers from Japan, Britain, Guadeloupe and Vietnam. Set up in response to the Swedish Academy’s cancellation of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, the New Academy hopes to honour Nobel-worthy writers while employing a grass-roots approach.

After a sexual harassment scandal prompted the Swedish Academy to cancel this year’s Nobel prize, a group of Swedish librarians banded together to form the New Academy Prize in Literature. Their aim was to remind the world that “literature should be associated with democracy, openness, empathy and respect”.

Though the New Academy’s timeline is similar to that of the absent Nobel (both announce winners in October), its voting system is radically different. Where the Nobel Prize is traditionally decided behind closed doors, the New Academy’s approach is based on transparency and inclusivity. Swedish librarians initially nominated 47 authors, at which point the public were asked to vote on a shortlist. More than 30,000 members of the public voted, creating the four-strong list.

The Swedish Academy in Stockholm | © Evunji / WikiCommons

Haruki Murakami – shortlisted for 2017’s Nobel Prize in Literature – is the most recognisable name up for the New Academy award. Celebrated for his compelling mix of surrealism and pop culture, Murakami works Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore have been translated into numerous languages around the world.

Maryse Condé, one of the Caribbean’s most significant authors, also features. It was Segu – an epic tale of a West African dynasty – that propelled the author to literary fame in 1984. Guadeloupe-born Condé explores “how colonialism has changed the world and how those affected take back their heritage”, according to a note written by the New Academy. British author Neil Gaiman, responsible for mesmeric mythical re-tellings of traditional stories, and Kim Thúy, a Vietnamese author who grew up in Canada and is “known for her short and elegant stories about being a refugee and an immigrant”, complete the list.

The New Academy winner will be decided by an expert jury, and will be announced on 12 October 2018. The Academy will dissolve following a ceremony in December, with the Swedish Academy planning to award two Nobel Prizes in Literature in 2019.

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