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Deaths, sex scandal mark ’18

The world of literature witnessed a chequered 2018 marked by deaths, wins and above all, sex scandal.
The Swedish Academy was left red-faced after it was forced to cancel the Nobel prize for literature over allegations of sexual harassment. At least 18 women levelled the allegations against 72-year-old photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of Katarina Frostenson, a member of the Academy.
A Swedish court found Arnault guilty of raping a woman in a Stockholm apartment and sentenced him to two years in prison. He was also ordered to pay the victim £10,000 in damages over the attack, which took place on the night of October 5, 2011.
Arnault’s accusers were reportedly emboldened to come forward after the #MeToo campaign in the US after similar accusations were made against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017.
To fill the void, members of Sweden’s cultural society came together to create a replacement literature award this year. The group released the names of four possible winners of the so-called ‘New Academy Prize’. The name of the winner was announced on October 12. Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé won the prize.
The chair of judges at the Academy, Ann Palsson, had called Condé a “grand storyteller” who “belongs to world literature”.
“She describes the ravages of colonialism and the post-colonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming,” Palsson had said in an interview to The Guardian. “The dead live in her stories closely to the living in a… world where gender, race and class are constantly turned over in new constellations.”
Also, the Swedish Academy has decided to name two literature laureates in 2019.
In the same month, the Man Booker prize was announced. Ann Burns’ Milkman, “a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness”, won the coveted award.
According to chair of judges Kwame Anthony Appiah, the language of Milkman is simply marvellous; beginning with the distinctive and consistently realised voice of the funny, resilient, astute, plain-spoken, first-person protagonist.
“From the opening page her words pull us into the daily violence of her world — threats of murder, people killed by state hit squads — while responding to the everyday realities of her life as a young woman, negotiating a way between the demands of family, friends and lovers in an unsettled time. The novel delineates brilliantly the power of gossip and social pressure in a tight-knit community, and shows how both rumour and political loyalties can be put in the service of a relentless campaign of individual sexual harassment,” Appiah had said.

It was also the first time that a graphic novel, Sabrina, featured on the Man Booker long list.
The year 2018 saw deaths of several eminent authors. It started with the death of Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld followed by Ursula K Le Guin, the famous science fiction and fantasy writer.
The list of losses is longer this year and includes Guyaese writer Wilson Harris, ‘new journalist’ and author Tom Wolfe, beat poet Bobbie Louise Hawkins, novelist Philip Roth, poet laureate Donald Hall, science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, comics artist Steve Ditko, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, Russian writer Vladimir Voinovich, poet Anya Krugovoy Silver, Indian origin writer VS Naipaul, children’s book writer Richard Peck, crime novelists Amanda Kyle Williams and Justin Cartwright, Mexican author Sergio Pitol and poet John Ashbery, among many others.
India too has its share of losses. The most noted among the authors who passed away was economist and author Ashok Mitra.
Mitra, the first finance minister in the Left Front government in West Bengal, died in Kolkata at 90. Beside serving the state, he also worked with the Centre as chief economic advisor and was a member of the Rajya Sabha. Among his books, Calcutta Diary is the most popular one.
Hindi poet and lyricist Gopal Das Neeraj passed away in New Delhi due to a prolonged illness. His poetic works include Asawari, Lahar Pukare and Paran Geet. He received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1988 for his novel Assoryalok.

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Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was also a noted poet, died this year.
There were happy tidings too and expectations. Noted author and columnist Arundhati Roy released her book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 20 years after the novel God of Small Things.
Also, four Indian novels made it to the International Dublin Literary Award long list.
Anuradha Roy’s All the Lives We Never Lived was longlisted for DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018. The author also won the Tata Literature Live award.
The North East literature too bloomed in the national arena. Three authors from Assam were nominated for the Sahitya Akademi award this year.
Bal Sahitya Puraskar winners from Assam were Jugallochan Das for his Assamese novel Xonbali Bagisar Bhoot and Sitaram Basumatary for his collection of short stories in Bodo, Gotho Gothaini Solo Bhata. Yuva Puraskar winner from the state is Bipasha Bora for her short story collection Mou Makshi Samrajya.
Author Easterine Kire of Nagaland won the Bal Sahitya Puraskar. Khangembam Shamungou was a winner of the Bal Puraskar for his anthology Mahousha Lairembigee Mashaigonda Thirushi Lao Yenglushi Lao in Manipuri. Tongbram Amarjit Singh was a winner of the Yuva Puraskar for his anthology Loubukki Manam in Manipuri.
Assamese author Rita Chowdhury’s book Chinatown Days was released this year. The book has got good reviews.
In Shillong, Kympham Sing Nongkynrih released his book Manik. Nilanjan P Choudhury, who was born and brought up in the hill city, released Shillong Times, which tells the story of Shillong in the 1980s.
Author Janice Pariat released her book Victoria: A Story from Underground. Politician Paul Lyngdoh released A Return to Poetry, a collection of his poems.
In 2019, the wait will be for the Nobel prize winners and probably another crucial turning point for northeastern literature.

~Compiled by NM

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