PEN Georgia launches crowdfunding to host alternative literary award following 2021 Litera Prize cancellation

Litera Prize organiser Writers' House of Georgia cancelled the prize after a protest saw most of the longlisted authors, designers and publishers remove their works from this year's running. Photo via Writers' House of Georgia., 06 Oct 2021 - 17:42, Tbilisi,Georgia

PEN Georgia, a collective bringing together over 70 Georgian writers, has launched a crowdfunding drive in a bid to host an alternative literary award after this year's edition of the annual Litera Prize, one of the two major prizes of the kind in the country, was cancelled following author and publisher protests in August.

On Tuesday the group revealed they had raised a part of necessary funds for hosting the prize, referred to as "awards in support of Litera", with their crowdfunding initiative aiming to collect the remaining money.

The organisers of the crowdfunding said the awards "needed" to be held to demonstrate it "belongs to us - readers and writers", with the alternate event aiming to replicate the format of the cancelled Litera Prize.

The goal for creating this one-time competition in support of Litera is to strengthen the [literary scene] that was damaged by the attempt of ongoing censorship

- PEN Georgia

A part of the funds necessary for organising the alternative event has been covered by the Open Society Foundation, PEN Georgia said, with the organisers looking to raise the remaining 24,260 GEL ($7,700/€6,600) from supporters of the idea.

The move follows the cancellation of the original awards in the summer after authors, designers, translators and publishers selected for its longlist removed themselves from this year's running, in protest of changes made in regulations in June by the culture ministry that saw a jury member from the ministry appointed to the contest.

The PEN Georgia announcement said the move had been seen by the longlisted authors as having the outlines of the USSR-era "appointments of representatives of Soviet state [authority] to contest juries, mandated to reject submissions incompatible with party ethos".

The assessment reflects the statements made at the time of the protest, including one by Litera organiser venue Writers' House of Georgia, which said "[t]he public has viewed the ministry's decision as interference in creative activity".

In the protest move, 93 out of 110 works in the nominee longlist were withdrawn by their authors and publishers, leading to the Writers' House announcing it would be "impossible" to hold the contest with the remaining participants.

Organisers of the Litera Prize said the organising venue had "attempted a dialogue and communication with the ministry for reconsidering the decision [on jury member appointment], with no reaction [in response]."

In addition to the reaction to the culture ministry's appointment of a jury member, some of those who removed their works from the longlist also voiced their overall displeasure with the ministerial work and behaviour of the Minister of Culture, Sport and Youth, Thea Tsulukiani, appointed to the position in the spring.