New literature award emerges in absence of #MeToo-hit Nobel

People attend a rally in Stockholm in January in support of #MeToo and all victims of sexual offenses.

(CNN)Five months ago, the Swedish Academy, a prestigious cultural institution patronized by the King of Sweden, announced that this year's Nobel Prize in Literature would be postponed for the first time since World War II.

Rocked by allegations of sexual assault and financial corruption against Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer with close ties to the academy, and hemorrhaging members, who usually hold their seats for life, the institution said it needed to take time to recover public confidence before naming the next laureate.
Alexandra Pascalidou, a Swedish-Greek journalist and author of a book about the #MeToo movement, felt frustrated by the whole situation.
    "Literature had to pay the price for what these guys did, and suddenly the world was standing there without this prize in literature," she told CNN. "I thought, 'Let's start something totally different, something new.'"
      It was partly Sweden's reputation as a model for gender equality, democracy and transparency that galvanized her.
      "We're worth something better than the Swedish Academy," Pascalidou said.
      The result was the New Academy, a grassroots collective of writers, actors, musicians, librarians and teachers that is largely funded by a Kickstarter campaign and grew organically after the first few speculative phone calls, according to Pascalidou.
        On Friday, the group will announce the winner of "The New Academy Prize in Literature," chosen in a three-step process involving hundreds of librarians, more than 32,000 readers from around the world, and a four-person expert jury.
        Kim Thuy is one of three people shortlisted for the award, the others being Guadelupean author Maryse Condé and British writer Neil Gaiman. A fourth -- Haruki Murakami -- recently withdrew, citing a desire to focus on his writing.
        Writer Kim Thuy during a portrait session in Paris in 2010.
        Thuy, a Vietnamese-born Canadian writer, admires the drive of Pascalidou and the 130 supporters of the New Academy, most of whom are women.
        "When we're faced with a scandal, very often we freeze, we don't react," Thuy said. "This I found courageous and extraordinary."
        "This time it's not only about literature, it's about a movement of citizens."
        The prize has been dubbed "the alternative Nobel" but Pascalidou rejects that label.
        "We're not an alternative, we're something new," she said. "We're trying to involve as many people as possible -- it's about equality, transparency. We don't have any kings backing us up. We only have our vision and our passion."
        Nor is she trying to replace or compete with the original academy -- the group will dissolve after the prize-giving ceremony in December.
        "We're not interested in becoming an institution," she said. "When we're done, we're done."
        But that hasn't prevented some members of the Swedish Academy from slamming the initiative. In an email to CNN, former permanent secretary Horace Engdahl described it as "just a joke" and accused the New Academy of trying to award a substitute Nobel, which he said was "a ridiculous idea."
        Horace Engdahl, then permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, attends the annual meeting of the Nobel academy in Stockholm in December 2008.

        Loss of faith in the old academy

        It was last November, as #MeToo was rippling its way around the globe, when 18 women came forward to accuse a man, soon identified as Arnault, of a range of sexual misconduct between 1996 and 2017. The academy quickly cut all ties with him.
        Last week, Arnault, 72, was found guilty on one of two charges of rape and sentenced to two years in prison. He has denied all the allegations against him.