By Ogova Ondego
Published April 4, 2016
The winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) for Children’s Literature shall be announced on April 5, 2016. Helen Sigeland, Director of ALMA, chats with Ogova Ondego on the eve of the event that shall see the winner walk away with US$6 Million.
How does the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award compare with the Hans Christian Andersen Award (HCAA) and the Astrid Lindgren Prize (ALP)?
ALMA focuses on children and youth and keeps its jury intact for 12 years. The ALP is a translation prize aimed at promoting children’s literature and drawing attention to the role of translators in uniting people through culture. The HCAA, on the other hand, is Danish, has its offices in Switzerland and, like ALMA, is presented to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. ALMA is presented yearly while HCAA is given out every other year.
How does ALMA define ‘young adults’?
It is sometimes difficult to define ‘young adults’ though the term generally applies to people who are neither children nor adults.
Could the term be referring to people described as ‘teens’, ‘adolescents’ or ‘youth’, i.e. those between 13 and 24?
Yes, it could; youth.
Are there any conditions or restrictions imposed on winners of the US$6Million ALMA prize in the use of the cash they receive?
No, the winner(s) are free to use the prize money in any way they deem fit.
What chance does Africa have in winning the ALMA in 2016?
African candidates have an equal chance of winning like any of the other215 candidates from 59 countries. South Africa’s PRAESA (Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) won the award in 2015.
Looking at the list of the 215 nominees and nominating countries, French-speaking Africa doesn’t feature anywhere; why is this so?
The ALMA nomination relies on nominating organisations; they are our eyes and ears. They look for and identify writers, illustrators, storytellers and promoters of literature for children and young adults for us. Though we prefer to work with the people who work with children at the grassroots, we were forced to write to all the diplomatic missions of African countries represented in Stockholm to assist us in identifying authors, illustrators, storytellers and child literacy promoters in their countries. But diplomats don’t seem to know writers. We are yet to hear from them. If you or anyone else knows any qualified organisations that we could contact, please let us know. Send us their contacts. Nominating organisations are selected on the basis of their good knowledge of authors, illustrators, storytellers and activities that encourage reading in their countries or regions. Nominating bodies can be international, national or regional organisations such as research institutes connected to children’s literature and projects to encourage reading, children’s book institutes, author and illustrator organisations, children’s departments and literary centres at national libraries. Ministries for culture or their equivalents are invited to make nominations in areas where reading promoting organisations do not exist.
That could explain why only 10 out of 54 countries in Africa nominate candidates for ALMA?
Yes, the African countries who nominated candidates in 2016 were Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. As I said, we appeal to anyone who knows anyone who could qualify for nominating organisation to send us their contacts.
Why does ALMA focus on ‘contemporary literature for children and young adults’?
Children need all the focus they can get. They are the present and the future. They are imptrssionistic. They are a neglected segment of the population.
Why is ALMA referred to as Nobel Prize for Children’s Literature?
We don’t like ALMA being referred to as the Nobel prize; the Nobel has the connotation of exploding dynamite. ALMA doesn’t. We at ALMA don’t refer to the prize as the Nobel Prize for Literature.
How does the UN convention on the rights of the child guide ALMA?
In the light of the child to access information, read books and decide for themselves what to believe. Article 13 of UNCRC, for instance, says, “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or throuhj any other media of the child’s choice.”
How is the Jury selected?
The Board of the ALMA decides that based on the candidate’s qualifications as far as children’s literature is concerned. Authors, illustrators, storytellers, librarians, academics, critics, researchers and literary promoters who are well versed in the issues of children and young adults may be considered.
Why does the annual cycle of the ALMA take so long, at least 18 months?
That is to give nominating organisations and the jury ample time to do their work. They have a lot of work to do in terms of assessing the work to be awarded. It actually takes longer than 18 months, in most instances.
What do you consider to be the achievements of ALMA 14 years after its inauguration?
Our support of free reading promotions by not-for-profit and often under-resourced organisations in countries such as Venezuela, Palestinian Authority Territory could be considered an achievement. The not-so-well authors and illustrators who win the ALMA get their works translated and promoted around the world. The messages in their works get to be read around the world. For instance, Guus Kuijer of The Netherlands who won in 2012 had his works translated and distributed even in Spanish-speaking Mexico. The importance of writing, publishing and reading high quality literature around the world could also be said to be another achievement of the ALMA.
ALMA honours Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren (1907-2002), a Swedish writer of fiction and screenplays who is best known for her children’s book series.