The Swedish Academy which decides the Nobel Prize for Literature said it would not make the award this year because of a sexual misconduct scandal that has caused turmoil in its ranks and led to the resignation of a string of board members.
A postponement or cancellation of the prestigious prize has not occurred in decades, but the usually secretive academy acknowledged its reputation had been damaged by allegations against the husband of one of its members and the admission that the names of some prize winners had been leaked.
“The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence in the academy,” it said in a statement yesterday.
The academy, composed of Sweden‘s literary elite, said it aimed to award two prizes next year, including the 2018 prize.
“We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the academy before the next laureate can be announced,” said Mr Anders Olsson, the interim permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.
The turmoil caused by sexual allegations against the husband of one of the board members is unprecedented for the academy, a revered institution that was established by King Gustav III in 1786 and is still under royal patronage.
The Swedish Academy that selects the Nobel Literature Prize laureate has been plunged into crisis since November, in the wake of the global #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment.
Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published the testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Mr Jean-Claude Arnault, the French photographer husband of academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson.
The revelations have sown deep discord among the academy‘s 18 members over how to handle the matter, with one camp defending Ms Frostenson and the academy‘s old guard, and the other supporting permanent secretary Sara Danius, who wanted reforms.
But the row has turned into a titillating public spectacle, with Swedish Academy members dealing ugly blows to one another in the media.
Member Horace Engdahl, for example, called Ms Danius “the worst” permanent secretary in the academy‘s history.
Six members have resigned, including Ms Danius.
Technically, Swedish Academy members are appointed for life and not able to resign, though they could leave their chairs “empty” by not participating in meetings and decisions.
However, the academy is currently down to 10 active members while its statutes stipulate that 12 are needed to elect new members.
In order to ensure the venerable body‘s survival, the academy‘s patron, Sweden‘s King Carl XVI Gustaf, announced on Wednesday that he had changed the statutes, making it possible for members to resign and be replaced.
The last time the institution delayed a prize announcement was in 1949. American novelist William Faulkner received the prize a year later, when British philosopher Bertrand Russell was also honoured.
Seen as bearers of high culture, the academy is traditionally known for its integrity and discretion, with its meetings and decisions shrouded in secrecy.
Though the academy has courted controversy in the past, for example, by awarding the 2016 prize to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, debate has mainly focused on literary merit rather than the institution itself.
It found itself at the centre of controversy after allegations of sexual harassment and assault were made by 18 women against photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to academy member and author Katarina Frostenson.
The academy provided financial support for the couple‘s cultural centre Forum in Stockholm, which it had subsidised for years and was a key meeting point for the country‘s cultural elite. It is now closed.
Three members of the Swedish Academy‘s board resigned because of dissatisfaction over the way an investigation into the allegations was conducted.
The academy‘s head and Ms Frostenson also subsequently stepped down followed by a sixth member last week.
As the scandal unfolded, the Swedish Academy also disclosed that an investigation had shown the names of some prize winners – the subject of lively betting – had been leaked.
Mr Arnault has denied all allegations regarding both sexual misconduct and leaking the names of laureates, his lawyer told Reuters on Thursday.
Prosecutors announced in mid-March that they had dropped parts of their investigation against Mr Arnault – concerning allegations of rape and assault between 2013 and 2015 – due to a lack of evidence.
The rest of the investigation is ongoing.
Literature experts in Sweden lamented yesterday‘s announcement, but agreed with the decision.
“They‘ll have a chance to restore (the academy) this year and fill the empty seats, and come back with a strong academy that can award the prize,” Dagens Nyheter‘s literature critic Maria Schottenius told Agence France-Presse.
The Nobel Foundation, which administers the estate of dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, said in a statement that the academy‘s decision “will help safeguard the long-term reputation of the Nobel Prize”.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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