Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé won the New Academy Prize in literature, a new prize established by a group of about 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.
“It is impossible to read her novels and not come away from them with both a sadder and more exhilarating understanding of the human heart, in all its secret intricacies, its contradictions and marvels,” Howard Frank Mosher wrote in his review of “I, Tituba” for the New York Times in 1992.
Born the last of eight children in 1937 in Pointe-à-Pitre, Condé wanted to be a writer since encountering 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 e-mail. 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.
The New Academy Prize differs from the Nobel in several ways: 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.
A fourth finalist was Haruki Murakami, the only one of the four considered a regular Nobel contender (according to betting websites, at least — official nominations are kept secret for 50 years). Murakami dropped out, according to the prize’s webpage, because he wished “to concentrate on his writing, far from media attention.”
Perhaps in response to the Nobel’s sexual misconduct crisis, a measure of gender equality was built into the process. The top two male writers and top two female authors from the public vote were named finalists.
“This prize to me is so precious because it comes from the movement of citizens,” Ly Thanh said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not a structure, an organization, something that is established. It’s a reaction from the population.”