Writer from Guade­loupe wins al­ter­na­tive to No­bel lit­er­a­ture award

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD 2 -

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.”

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