Writer from Guadeloupe wins alternative to Nobel literature award
Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé won The New Academy Prize in Literature, a new prize established by a group of more than 100 Swedish cultural figures as a substitute for this year’s Nobel in Literature, which was not awarded for the first time since 1949 because of a sexual misconduct scandal.
The New Academy Prize is accompanied by 1 million kronor, or around $112,000. The Nobel prizewinner would have received 9 million kronor from the Swedish Academy, which intends to award the prize next year.
Condé is the author of
“I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem,” a historical novel about a black woman condemned during the Salem witch trials; “Segu,” set in 18th-century West Africa; “Windward Heights,” a Caribbean reimagining of “Wuthering Heights”; and other emotionally complex novels that reach across history and cultures.
Born the last of eight children in 1937 in Pointeà-Pitre, Condé wanted to be a writer since reading Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” as a child.
“I decided that one day I would write a book as powerful and beautiful,” she said in an email. Nonetheless, she did not publish her first novel until she was nearly 40, she said, because, “I didn’t have confidence in myself and did not dare present my writing to the outside world.”
This prize, she wrote, will be “good for my morale.”
The two other finalists were British fantasy and comic book author Neil Gaiman and Vietnamese-Canadian novelist Kim Thuy Ly Thanh, who publishes as Kim Thuy.
Instead of the Nobel’s cloistered deliberations, the New Academy prize was selected by a mix of librarians, readers and judges. Swedish librarians nominated the first round of contenders, a public poll the next, and the ultimate winner was selected from three finalists by a panel of judges led by editor Ann Palsson.
The top two male writers and top two female authors from the public vote were named finalists.
The New Academy Prize is also distinctive for including popular genre authors: for instance, fantasy novelists such as J.K. Rowling, nominated by librarians in the first round, and Gaiman are unlikely to ever win the Nobel, which tends toward authors of literary fiction or serious-minded nonfiction.
The New Academy Prize has received some criticism in Sweden for a perceived lack of seriousness But the prize’s founder, journalist Alexandra Pascalidou, told The New York Times in July that she was not hoping to replace the Nobel but push it to be more “contemporary, open to the world, inclusive, transparent.”
Guadeloupe is an administrative department of France, and Condé’s novels are written in French.
“Guadeloupe is mentioned only when there is a hurricane,” Condé said, “but I have always been convinced we have a wonderful culture fabricated from various influences: Europeans, Africans, Indians, Chinese. Winning this prize would mean that our voice, the voice of the Guadeloupeans, is starting to be heard. It would be the beginning of a true Guadeloupean identity.”