Nobel Prize crisis: flurry of withdrawals rocking Swedish Academy’s showpiece literature award


Thomas Kaiserfeld, Lund University

The Swedish Academy is in trouble. The body which bestows the annual Nobel Prize in Literature has been hit by the withdrawal of a number of its members after a row over allegations of sexual abuse and harassment. The crisis came to a head after the decision of the permanent secretary, Sara Danius, to step down on April 12, prompting King Carl XVI Gustaf to intervene, promising reforms to enable to academy to continue.

The academy’s rules don’t allow for members to resign, so disenchanted members withdraw from active participation. Danius’s withdrawal is the first by a permanent secretary in more than than 230 years. It means there are only 11 active members of the academy and the rules require that new members must be elected by 12 members.

The Swedish Academy was established in 1786 to promote the Swedish language by setting standards and developing poetry and other forms of linguistic expression. For a century and more, this was where writers rubbed shoulders with high-ranking officials and aristocrats. But for the past century, the 18 members of the Academy have tended to be well-known writers and academics – a fine family name is no longer enough for entrance.

But apart from this small modernisation in the interests of promoting equality, the Swedish Academy has remained surprisingly stable. There have been scandals and expulsions, most notably that of founding member, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, a director of both the Royal Opera and the Royal Theatre in Stockholm, who was excluded twice – both times for political reasons when Armfelt was forced to flee the country in fear of his life. Another prominent exclusion was that of politician and aristocrat Count Henning Hamilton who resigned after financial wrongdoing.

But overall the academy has been remarkably stable and, when Alfred Nobel’s will stipulated in 1895 that the Nobel Prize in Literature should be decided upon by “the academy in Stockholm”, the organisation received an enormous boost in prestige as well as a financial boost that has allowed it to fund the Nobel Library.

Scandal erupts

The current crisis actually has its roots in a row as far back as 1989 when members Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten left their chairs after a majority of the academy voted against a proposition to submit an appeal to the Swedish government to engage against the fatwa issued by Iran against Salman Rushdie for his controversial novel The Satanic Verses. In 2015, another member, Lotta Lotass, left her chair for personal reasons.

After Gyllenstein’s death and replacement by Kristina Lugn, this meant that only 16 of the 18 members of the academy were now actively involved in its work. These included five women including Danius the permanent secretary and the poet Katarina Frostenson whose husband Jean-Claude Arnault is reported to have been the subject of numerous complaints of sexual harassment and abuse. These go back as far as 1996 when there is evidence that a young artist called Anna-Karin Bylund contacted the then permanent secretary Sture Allén (confusingly, the permanent secretary actually holds the office for a limited term which varies) with allegations of sexual harassment against Arnault. No action was taken at the time.

Towards the end of 2017, in the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, 18 women came forward in the Swedish press with further allegations against Arnault, who is not only married to an Academy member but runs the Forum, a club for artists in Stockholm which is subsidised by the Academy. There were also allegations going around that the names of several winners had been leaked in the past, although there is said to be no record of odd betting patterns in Sweden. In the UK, Ladbrokes is reported to have suspended betting on one occasion after large amounts of money were placed on the eventual winner. Arnault’s lawyer Bjorn Hurtig told Reuters that his client denied all the allegations, including that of being the source of leaks.

Turmoil

According to reports of the affair, moves to expel Frostenson were frustrated by the Academy’s dominant conservative male faction, led by Allén and literary scholar Horace Engdahl (also a former permanent secretary), which voted against the measure on the grounds that it would be unfair to punish Frostenson for the perceived crimes of her husband. Three members: novelist Klas Ostergren, literary scholar Kjell Espmark and historian Peter Englund duly resigned and Danius stood down as permanent secretary and withdrew from active participation, as did Frostenson.

The ConversationThe affair would not have attracted so much international interest but for the Swedish Academy’s role in selecting the recipients of the Nobel Prize. And now, thanks to all the resignations, the existence of the Academy itself has been put in jeopardy. All eyes are now on the king and his possible reforms to reach some kind of solution that can secure the future of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Thomas Kaiserfeld, Professor at Division of History of Ideas and Sciences, Lund University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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2018 Man Booker International Shortlist


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the shortlist for 2018 Man Booker International.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/04/man-booker-international-prize-shortlist2018/

Man Booker International Prize shortlist a boon for small publishers



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Man Booker International Prize

Amy Rushton, Nottingham Trent University

Six books, six languages, two former winners and a bonanza for independent publishers: the Man Booker International Prize – the UK’s most prestigious prize for translated fiction – has announced its 2018 shortlist. Whittled down from a longlist of 13 titles spanning the globe, the six titles to make the cut are translated from Arabic, French, Hungarian, Korean, Spanish and Polish.

This year’s nominations have been selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by novelist Lisa Appignanesi with fellow writers Hari Kunzru and Helen Oyeyemi alongside poet and translator Michael Hofmann and journalist Tim Martin. The shortlist includes Han Kang and Deborah Smith – who won the prize in 2016 for The Vegetarian – and László Krasznahorkai – who won the prize in its former iteration in 2015 – when it was awarded for an achievement in fiction evident in a body of work.

The winner of the 2018 prize will be announced on May 22 at a formal dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – and the £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning book.

The Booker Prize Foundation has rejigged the flagship award in recent years. An awful lot of handwringing has been devoted to the decision to include US authors as contenders for the “main” award, The Man Booker Prize. But very little attention has been paid to the decision to overhaul the group’s international prize. Originally introduced in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize was intended as a global-facing sister award – with a twist. The original version of the International prize was a biennial award honouring an entire body of work by a living writer of any nationality and in any language (as long as their work was available in English).

Ahmed Saadawi has been shortlisted for his award-winning book, Frankenstein in Baghdad.
Man Booker International Prize

The original format was a noble pursuit, but the Man Booker International was inevitably overshadowed on the global literary stage by the Nobel Prize for Literature. As of 2016, the Man Booker International Prize now awards a single book – but one that has been originally written in a language other than English, then subsequently translated and published in the UK.

The International Prize’s unique selling point is the emphasis on collaboration between author and translator, even down to sharing the prize money. The focus on collaboration is what makes the International Prize, for me, a truly exciting event in the literary awards calendar.

Focus on translation

Arguably, the change has been for the better but the comparative lack of attention on the international award is still indicative of mainstream publishing’s general disinterest in translated fiction – bar the occasional bestselling “Scandi Noir” and international phenomenon such as Italy’s Elena Ferrante, of course, the latter shortlisted for the prize in 2016, along with translator Ann Goldstein.

Although we shouldn’t be tempted to see the commercial popularity of Jo Nesbø and the relative success of Ferrante as a sea change in translated fiction’s fortunes in UK publishing, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press suggests that “there’s definitely greater and wider awareness of fiction in translation as a result of such successes”, pointing to the new format of the Man Booker International Prize as “doing a great deal to raise the profile of such books”.

Small publishers to the fore

Crucially, the prize is raising the profile of those small presses and independent publishers who are at the vanguard of translated literature. As well as the aforementioned Pushkin Press, notable small publishers specialising in translated literature include Tilted Axis Press and And Other Stories. This year’s shortlist is dominated by titles from independent presses, including two books from Tuskar Rock Press, and one each from MacLehose Press, Portobello Books, Oneworld and Fitzcarraldo Editions.

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The role of independent publishers in supporting translated literature is not lost on the judges for the International Prize: announcing the longlist earlier this year, Appignanesi declared: “I think we have to raise our hats to independent publishers. It does cost money to translate, it’s harder to publish, harder to sell.”

The International Prize has even had a direct impact on the range of translated literature available in the UK: Kang and Smith’s inaugural win in 2016 for The Vegetarian meant that Smith had extra funds for her non-profit small press, Tilted Axis – which is “on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature”.

Translated fiction may be a small part of the British reading diet but it is one that is steadily growing. In 2015, The Bookseller reported that translated fiction only accounted for 1.5% overall and 3.5% of published literary fiction. Yet translated fiction provided 5% of total fiction sales in 2015.

The ConversationOnly time will tell if the appetite for translated fiction in the UK can continue. In the meantime, let’s toast the shortlisted authors and translators. If you’ve yet to enjoy translated fiction, this year’s shortlist is a good place to expand your global reading life.

Amy Rushton, Lecturer in English Literature, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Alexis Wright wins 2018 Stella Prize for Tracker, an epic feat of Aboriginal storytelling



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Alexis Wright, author of Tracker: a book written in the mode and genre of Aboriginal storytelling.
Stella Prize

Ben Etherington, Western Sydney University

Alexis Wright’s book Tracker: Stories of Tracker Tilmouth has won the 2018 Stella Prize. Tracker is, in Wright’s words, an attempt to tell an “impossible story”, using the voices of many people to reflect on the life of Tilmouth, a central and visionary figure in Aboriginal politics.

At one telling point in the book, Gulf of Carpentaria activist and political leader Murandoo Yanner relates an encounter between Tracker and Jenny Macklin, then Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the Rudd government. Tracker was helping Yanner to lobby Macklin over the Wild Rivers legislation in Queensland.

Notoriously, Macklin had persisted with the Howard government’s “Northern Territory Intervention”, and was regarded with suspicion by most Aboriginal leaders. Nevertheless, she was the federal minister and had to be dealt with.

Tracker by Alexis Wright, from Giramondo.

As they approached, Tracker called out, “How ya going, Genocide Jenny?”

Yanner recalls the atmosphere that followed: “You could have heard a pin drop and pistols drawn at twenty paces, and the whole thing went sour pretty quickly”.

It tells you a lot about the man. He had regular access to the corridors of power yet still called a spade a spade. He was capable of dealing with politicians of any background and station yet did not forfeit his never-back-down attitude.

He was able to gain the upper hand from the first with an irreverent comment. And, above all, he was a funny bugger. (Another memorable thumbnail character sketch, this one related by Tracker himself, is of current senator Pat Dodson as a “mobile wailing wall”: a place where white people go to confess and forgo their sins.)

It also tells you a lot about Wright’s epic tribute to Tracker. We do not read Wright quoting Yanner, but hear the whole yarn directly from the source. Born in 1954, Tracker was one of the stolen generation. His life spanned the latter years of the White Australia policy, when Aboriginal people were still legally part of the nation’s fauna, to the tumultuous period in Aboriginal politics following the Intervention, until his death in 2015.




Read more:
Provocative, political, speculative: your guide to the 2018 Stella shortlist


This is not a book about Tracker’s life authored by Wright, but consists of stories and recollections told to Wright by the man himself as well as 50 others, from family and school mates, to Aboriginal and non-Indigenous leaders in our time. Wright brilliantly intersperses and weaves these together into an epic of stories and storytelling.

As the tributes to Tracker have flowed in the months since its publication, and many will surely follow as it garners further prizes and draws in ever more readers, so have proliferated the attempts to describe both the work’s genre and the mode of authorship it enacts.

In their award statement, the Stella judges call it a “biography”, but also “new way of writing memoir”. These descriptors capture aspects of the book – a birth to death tale does emerge from Wright’s layering of stories, and these are, of course, conjured from memory – but they also obscure.

Wright didn’t “write” the work but elicited the stories that comprise it through conversation. Towards the end of the book there is an unbroken sequence of nearly 100 pages of Tracker and Wright conversing, the contents of which are largely a mixture of philosophy and political economy. In these pages, Tracker’s voice is mostly serious, even earnest, as he expounds on the need to create a sustainable economic basis on which Aboriginal people can palpably enjoy their hard-won land rights and native title.

While it is no doubt true that readers accustomed to biographies in the European tradition will be struck by the novelty of reading a tribute to a storyman made up of many stories, Tracker’s strengths as a work are are not dependent on this putative departure from the biographical genre. It is simply remarkable to hear Tracker’s genuinely funny jokes and stories told repeatedly, often word for word and channelling Tracker’s unmistakable style, by such a range of different speakers. Over the course of the book, the repetition of these stories consolidates them and imprints them on the memory.

The ConversationIt is fitting that a book written in the mode and genre of Aboriginal storytelling should win a prize that encompasses both non-fiction and fiction. It is a work, epic in scope and size, that will ensure that a legend of Central Australian politics is preserved in myth.

Ben Etherington, Senior Research Lectureship-literature, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Provocative, political, speculative: your guide to the 2018 Stella shortlist



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None of the books on the Stella shortlist offer a comforting vision of contemporary Australian life.
Shutterstock

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

Six years ago, The Stella Prize burst onto the Australian literary scene with an air of urgency. The A$50,000 award was the progeny of the Stella Count – a campaign highlighting the under-representation of women authors in book reviews and awards lists. In the years since, the prize has challenged the gendered ways in which we think about “significance” and “seriousness” in literature.

Judging a literary award is invariably a contest of aesthetics and politics. And the Stella has never shied from difficult, taxing or surprising choices. It has awarded nonfiction in a field traditionally dominated by fiction; first time writers rather than established names; and in an increasingly commercialised and globalising literary marketplace, it has consistently championed the work of small and independent publishers.

There is, nonetheless, something distinctive about a Stella book. It often draws attention to the pressing social issues of our times – not only gender bias, but also racial prejudice and social and economic inequality – and testifies to the enduring significance of more intimate human themes: sickness and death, grief, love or family. The one quality the books share, I suspect, is that of provocation.

A Stella winner is a book that challenges its readers; it attempts to do a bit of work in the world. And this year’s Stella shortlist doesn’t disappoint.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar,

Azar’s novel narrates the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, Bahar, who is burnt to death two days before the revolution reaches its height. Militants “boiling” with “hatred and fervour” break into her family home, pour kerosene across the tables, and set them alight, crying “God is great, God is great!”

Bahar narrates the story as a ghostly presence at the centre of her once happy family. The mass slaughter of dissidents, the execution of her brother, the rape and murder of her sister; such events are rendered as unremarkably as her sister’s transformation into a mermaid and her mother’s attainment of enlightenment in the greengage tree.

It is a convention of magic realism that the narrator remains estranged and distant, withholding any kind of explanation, even as ordinary life is invaded by elements of terror that are too strange to believe. This is an uneasy tension – holding beauty and horror together in a single sentence. The effect, in this novel, is to suggest that no conventional means exists to render such realities explicable.


The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

To read a book by Michelle de Kretser is to fall in love with the novel all over again. There are few ironists so scathing and few stylists so astonishing that they can demolish a character’s pretensions in a few deft strokes. Her latest work maps the gaucheries of Australian literary, intellectual and academic life. Here, the appearance of virtue is more important than its actuality. BioBags and free-range eggs are no less status objects than designer dresses and the right shade of red lipstick.

The novel opens with the character of George Meshaw, the author of many “abstract but oppressive” books (one of which is ominously titled Necessary Suffering). George soon exits right, clearing the stage for a plethora of equally self-involved people, all of whom dutifully cart around his books, largely unread. Linking their stories is George’s undergraduate student Pippa Elkinson. “I love English,” Pippa gushes at one point. “In that case, I suggest you learn to write it,” replies George.

Pippa is all confidence and fakery. She travels abroad to gather experiences for her writing, which she insists, without a hint of irony, is based on reality. She leaves warm, supportive comments on the Twitter accounts of her carefully cultivated friends, while her agent runs her books through a simulated audience reaction indicator to test their market value. Pippa is all surface, though she later turns out to have surprising depths. As the narrator dryly observes, “Pippa would always need to demonstrate her solidarity with the oppressed – Indigenous people or battery hens, it scarcely mattered.”

Narcissism of all kinds is the target of this novelist’s ire. But de Kretser works her magic less through the classic tool of empathy – the recognition that other people are also human beings with feelings – than the shock of seeing our own little lives through the perspective of someone else’s.


Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

Coleman’s debut novel uses the tools of speculative fiction to gain fresh insights into the history of Indigenous dispossession. It opens with Jacky Jerramungup, an Indigenous boy stolen at an early age to be used as cheap rural labour, fleeing across the country – evading capture at a mission run by sadistic nuns, eluding the Troopers and native police sent by a murderous colonial administrator to hunt him down.

Each chapter opens with a fragment from the archives of colonial bureaucracy, which appears convincingly real, but is Coleman’s invention. This is not the only strange or unexpected thing in her work. Half way through the book, what feels like a novelistic landscape drawn from the moral cesspit of the 19th century turns out to be the scene of some future invasion – a feverish figment of a dystopic dreamtime at the end of the present century.

This speculative terror – an invasion of spaceships bearing aliens from other planets in search of moisture – draws attention to the other, more familiar history of invasion, which is ongoing. As one character observes, “This has happened before, the English believed they had exterminated all of the Tasmanian Aborigines, the Palawa, in fact they survived the invasion, they still exist now.”


An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

Kneen’s adventures in speculative erotica are invariably amusing and playful, but also strangely sad, if not overtly sentimental. In a series of interlinked stories spanning a century from the near present to a post-human future, Kneen explores questions of sex, science and gender at a time in which the boundaries between humanity and machinery are beginning to dissolve. In a complex feat of speculative world building, the novel leaps forward in stages to catch a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic future in which sea levels have risen, water has flooded the cities, and jellyfish inhabit our cellars and basements.

Along the way, we meet an array of odd characters: Caspar, a middle-aged academic who climbs into a virtual skin suit to inhabit the point of view of the young female student he seduced and then discarded; Cameron, a teenage sex-robot built to aid studies in hebephilia who begins to have thoughts and feelings of his own; Ronnie, a child sex offender, whose mind fuses with a school of jellyfish.

Behind all this, the central – if submerged – controlling presence in the novel is Liv, a writer working at the interface of technology and narrative. Liv is 129 years old at the book’s end, seeking to find out what it means to be a human living in a post-human world.


The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe

Riwoe writes against the grain of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic short story “The Four Dutchmen” – a tale about a “Malay girl” brought on board a Dutch tramp ship, plying its lucrative trade in the waters off Indonesia. Upsetting the balance of homosocial shipboard life, the “Malay trollop” is casually slaughtered and thrown into the sea.

The desire to rework the subjectivities of colonial characters – giving them air and life – is a marked cultural tendency of our time, a product of this century’s interest in reclaiming the voices of the oppressed and marginalised. Many of these stories, like Jean Rhys’s postcolonial classic The Wide Sargasso Sea, centre on reclaiming the voices of women. And yet, there is a kind of horror in the experience of inhabiting the point of view of characters who are so obviously destined for tragedy.

Riwoe gives the “Malay girl” a name – Mina – together with a set of hopes, dreams and aspirations, but Mina’s choices are narrow, and her trajectory through the world is marked by a terrifying lack of agency. The perfumed air, the gorgeous food, the tropical vegetation, do nothing to alleviate the suffocating sadness. The “Malay girl” is traded by her father, and ultimately discarded as “bad rubbish”. Riwoe takes advantage of the novella form to deliver an ending that is brutal, sharp and lingering.


Tracker by Alexis Wright

Wright’s non-fiction study of the Indigenous activist Tracker Tilmouth is not written in Wright’s own words, but the words of others. It is, as the author points out, an attempt to capture the life of a man who communicated constantly, gave his ideas away freely, but never wrote anything down. Tracker, the “constantly travelling traditional song man”, is remembered by others “through the stories they kept telling about him”, and about his “ideas and dreams”. This is the way in which he touched lives and built communities.

Tracker is not an easy book. It is, as Wright states, an “impossible book”. It seeks to capture “the rare thing that does not want to be caught” – and perhaps cannot be caught. It is a book that needs to be read aloud in order to be experienced. It attempts to contain all the aspects of language and story that are left out when words get set down in patterns of black ink on a page.


The ConversationNone of the books on the Stella shortlist offer a comforting vision of contemporary Australian life. And yet language illuminates, where ordinary life is dark and hazy.

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor of Writing, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2018 Hugo Award Nominees


The link below is to an article reporting on the nominees for the 2018 Hugo Awards for the best Sci-Fi/Fantasy fiction.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2018/04/02/2018-hugo-award-nominees/

2018 Audiobook of the Year Finalists


The link below is to an article reporting on the 2018 Audiobook of the Year finalists.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/audiobooks/here-are-the-audiobook-of-the-year-finalists