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The Nobel for Literature for 2018 had been cancelled earlier this year, because the Swedish Academy had been dismantled following sex scandals due to the #MeToo movement.
So for those who are not quite aware of how the awarding of the Nobel Prize is done, here is a quick look at the system.
The Nobel Award has been instituted by Alfred Nobel, who left all his wealth to the establishment of the Nobel Prize in his will. The interest accrued each year on this is divided by the instructions in his will, and given to achievers in 6 areas, along with a medal. It is considered the most prestigious prize in these areas of human knowledge and endeavour.
There are 6 prizes awarded every year by the Nobel Committee, in these areas: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Economics, Literature, Peace.
Each of these prizes are decided upon and the winner chosen by a different awarding body.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Physics Nobel (…to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics…), the Chemistry Nobel (…one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement…) and the Economics Nobel.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awards the Medicine/ Physiology Nobel (…to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine …”)
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five persons who are chosen by the Norwegian Storting – Parliament of Norway (…to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”)
The Swedish Academy awards the Literature Nobel (…to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction …”)
In 2018, the Nobel for Literature has not been announced. The Nobel Committee has said they will give it next year. But 2018 is to go without this prize being awarded. Why? And what is being done about it? Let us look at it.
This year, the Swedish Academy has been dismantled, due to a scandal that shook the Nobel community. The husband of a member of the Swedish Academy was implicated in an expose which said he was guilty of sexually harassing over the years, at least 18 women who came forward to name him, some of these incidents happening on properties owned by the Swedish Academy. Members of the Academy resigned, causing the Academy to be dismantled, as the membership is for life, and it was accepted that the 2018 Nobel for Literature would be cancelled.
However, it was thought that not awarding a Literature prize in 2018 won’t do, so a committee was formed that created the Alternative Nobel for Literature, that will be given instead.
To clarify, this will not be the same as the Nobel, but was instituted, because, in the words of Den Nya Akademien, “The New Academy was founded to warrant that an international literary prize will be awarded in 2018, but also as a reminder that literature should be associated with democracy, openness, empathy and respect. In a time when human values are increasingly being called into question, literature becomes the counterforce of oppression and a code of silence. It is now more important than ever that the world’s greatest literary prize should be awarded.”
This seems fair.
This prize will not follow the procedure that is usually done for the Nobel, where the awarding committee decides upon the longlist, shortlist, and winner.
For the Alternative Nobel for Literature
a) Sweden’s librarians will nominate authors for the prize.
b) The list of authors with the most nominations will be opened to readers worldwide, and voting will be open from 10th July 2018 to 14th August 2018.
c) You can cast your vote for just 1 author from among this list.
d) 4 authors will be shortlisted for the prize – of which 3 will be from those who get the most votes, and 1 will be nominated by the committee.
e) This will be a gender equal shortlist, comprising 2 men and 2 women authors.
f) The final winner will be selected by the committee, and announced on 14th October 2018.
g) Den Nya Akademien (The New Academy) will be dissolved on 11th December 2018, after a formal event with a grand celebration December 10th 2018 when the prize will be awarded.
Clearly, this prize is not the Nobel. Yet it is an important step in the right direction.
The shortlist will be gender equal – comprising 2 men and 2 women authors.
If you look at the Nobel for literature over the years, from 1901 (when the 1st was awarded) to 2017, a total of 117 prizes have been awarded. Of these, only 13 have been women, and 104 men. Quite a skewed list, when we have just as many great women writers as men. As the article linked to here says, “there are only good writers and bad writers, if one has to classify by the quality of the writing. Not women writers and men writers.”
If you look at all the Nobels ever awarded, you will still see the same skew – a total of 49 women have collectively received this prestigious award, as against a total of 847 men. This is blatant discrimination.
It is a lie that women aren’t worthy of the Nobel. It is just that patriarchy has endeavoured to keep them ‘barefoot and pregnant’ through the ages, ensuring that many who were talented were not given their due. Have you heard of women whose work has been appropriated by men? No?
There have been countless of these women, who have been brilliant, pathbreaking, even, yet men have gotten away with the credit. It has often been done because women were not given a full membership of the position they were in.
All those who have read/ watched Hidden Figures will agree with me, how men, especially men in places of privilege, erase the names of women, especially women who are discriminated against for their colour, caste (Dalit women suffer as women AND as Dalits).
Want one more celebrated example? Watson & Crick have been credited with the discovery of the double helix structure of chromosomes, when a woman scientist Rosalind Franklin was one of the team who worked on it from the beginning, and the duo who got the Nobel for it did not give her credit. As the article linked to says, “Without Franklin’s permission or knowledge, her fellow researcher Maurice Wilkins showed the photograph to James Watson, who used it to develop a model of the chemical structure of DNA. Watson and his research partner Francis Crick published their work in the journal Nature in 1953.”
Note, also, that the only person to get 2 Nobels in two different sciences was a woman – Dame Marie Curie, who received them for Physics AND Chemistry. She is also the first person ever to get 2 Nobels.
In keeping with the ethos of Literature, which enables a reader to have a more inclusive view of life, more empathy for fellow human beings, and helps one rise above one’s situation, the process of the Alternative Nobel for Literature has a democratic process, wherein the nominees are chosen by librarians, who are the best people to know literature, and then readers worldwide can choose.
This is how it should be.
So even if this prize is just a one-time thing, it certainly is a democratic, inclusive one, and the author thus chosen will certainly be honoured to receive it.
Image source: pixabay, Flickr & NobelPrize.org
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In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya
Thank you for this article. What a laudable act from people in power (Bet it was women who came up with the idea!) If all people in power could use it with such integrity, the world would be a better place for all..
Would have been great to list those 13 history makers!
Thank you for writing this, Sandhya. After reading your article, I went and voted for my favorite writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 🙂
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