Swedish Academy has cancelled Nobel Prize for literature this year after it landed in thick soup following 18 women accusing an influential French cultural figure, who has long been connected to the institution, of rape and harassment. 

However, a group of Swedish cultural figures have joined forces to form a new prize-giving body in protest. The 107 intellectuals, who believes that lack of a Nobel literature award for the first time in almost 70 years is unacceptable, wrote in a joint statement that it meant to "remind people that literature and culture at large should promote democracy, transparency, empathy and respect, without privilege".

"Sweden is one of the world's most democratic, transparent and gender-equal countries... it needs a great literary prize," Swedish columnist and one of the founders of the new prize, Alexandra Pascalidou, told AFP.

This debacle happened after Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of Katarina Frostenson was charged with rape in June 2018. 

According to Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Journalist and author Lena ten Hoopen said “He (Arnault) held me and really groped me, all over. I managed to slip away and yelled at him, and then he said, ‘With that attitude, I’ll make sure you won’t last in this business’ and, ‘Don’t you know who I’m married to?’ I didn’t know at all who he was at that time.”

The new prize

The new literature award -- which carries a prize of one million kronor (around 97,000 euros, USD 113,000) raised from crowdfunding and donations - will be handed out at a December 10ceremony, the same day as the Nobel banquet.

Librarians across Sweden have been asked to nominate up to two authors, with a deadline set for July 8. Authors with the most nominations will then receive votes online from the public in Sweden and abroad.

Based on the nominations and the vote results, a jury including publishers, literature professors, culture journalists and critics will shortlist four authors -- two men and two women -- and make the final choice.

The winner, who may come from anywhere in the world and must have published at least one literary work in the last 10 years, will be announced on October 14, in the same month as the Nobel Literature Prize would have been announced.

However, some observers are sceptical about whether the New Academy can compare with the Nobel Literature Prize's history of recognising distinguished authors including Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Boris Pasternak, Alice Munro and Doris Lessing, among others.

For Asa Linderborg, chief culture editor at daily paper Aftonbladet, it's "deeply provocative" of the New Academy to use literature to promote moral values and even "the most disturbing ideas" can become high-quality literature.

"Art should be free. You cannot label it based on righteousness or evil. The New Academy is after total purity... total goodness," Linderborg told AFP.

She warned that allowing the public, who may not have a profound understanding of languages and books from different parts of the world, to vote for an author risks turning the prize in favour of "predictable and Western-translated" literature.

With inputs from PTI