The Swedish Academy which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature announced in May that it would not give one out in 2018, postponing it until 2019 because confidence in the body is “so low” following a turbulent 12 months.
Scandal sparked by sexual violence and harassment accusations from 18 women towards well-known cultural figure Jean-Claude Arnault who has close ties to the academy. He denied the allegations, but they had a domino effect that sparked a row which split the Academy and led to the resignation of six of its 18 members, including then permanent secretary Sara Danius, and Arnault's wife, poet Katarina Frostensson.
“I decided to do it when I heard the news one morning that they wouldn't even manage to award the prize because of all the scandals. That was the tipping point. What is the Swedish Academy doing if they can't even fulfill their work? That was the ultimate evidence that we need to save the prize, to do it with new joined forces and show them that something else is not only possible but necessary,” Pascalidou told The Local.
“While they argue and dig into their conflicts we promote literature, and all the people that love literature, fight inequality and everything else that doesn't really fit in our country and our time.”
In the traditional Nobel Prize's absence Pascalidou formed a new academy to give out the “New Literature Prize” according to the same time scale as usual – with the winner announced in October, followed by a presentation and celebration in December.
The “New Academy” has more than 100 members, ranging from authors and journalists to scriptwriters, lawyers and translators.
“I just started calling colleagues – writers, authors, journalists, actors and doers from all walks of life. It has been growing since, as there are so many people that had enough, and want to contribute to something meaningful and constructive. People that feel that we can do better than this if we come together.”
They promise to adhere to the principles in Nobel's will and have also added some of their own.
“Literature is the antidote to silence and censorship – so we want to empower it in these turbulent times, when regimes around the world try to control not only the words but also the minds of people.”
“We have some principles: that there is no room for sexism and racism and violence in the Academy. That is our criteria for all of those who want to join,” Pascalidou revealed.
The journalist said domestic and international interest in the award has already been “amazing” despite no press releases or publicity drives from the New Academy to date. “We have so many requests now we don't even have time to handle them since we all work on this for free while fighting our own deadlines – me with my next book.”
“It's taking a lot of effort and hard work but I hope it will be worth it. Not only for us but for literature, for culture, for our country, for all of those hoping for something new.”
Unlike the Nobel Literature Prize, the public will be invited to vote to help decide the winning book from a list of works nominated by Swedish libraries.
A jury will then pick the overall winner from a final list of four books equally divided by the gender of the authors, and the winner of the new award will be given a prize of one million kronor ($115,000) raised from donations.