Nobel Literature Prize postponed by a year after #MeToo turmoil

VIDEO: REUTERS
The old Stock Exchange Building in Stockholm, home of the Swedish Academy.
The old Stock Exchange Building in Stockholm, home of the Swedish Academy.PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM (NYTIMES, AFP) - The Swedish panel that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature will not name a laureate this year, it said on Friday (May 4) - not because of a shortage of deserving writers, but because of the infighting and public outrage that have engulfed the group over a sex abuse scandal.

The Swedish Academy, almost half of whose members have resigned in protest at how it has handled allegations against the husband of a member, said it would award two prizes in 2019.

It last postponed the prize - given in recent years to Kazuo Ishiguro and Bob Dylan - seven decades ago.

"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.

"Work on the selection of a laureate is at an advanced stage and will continue as usual in the months ahead but the Academy needs time to regain its full complement, engage a larger number of active members and regain confidence in its work, before the next Literature Prize winner is declared."

The academy is involved only in the literature award, so other Nobel Prizes are unaffected.

Held up as a paragon of gender equality, Sweden has been roiled by a number of #MeToo scandals in the theatre, film, music and most damagingly the Swedish Academy, the Financial Times said on Friday.

 
 

The body has been plunged in crisis since November, in the wake of the global #MeToo campaign, when Swedish newspaper of reference Dagens Nyheter published the testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer influential on the Swedish culture scene and who is married to Academy member Katarina Frostenson.

Recent media reports in Sweden allege that Mr Arnault also groped the Crown Princess Victoria, the Financial Times reported. He denies all the allegations.

Latest blow

The announcement that there will be no 2018 prize is the latest in a series of blows to the academy that, occurring in the glare of the #MeToo movement, have drawn worldwide attention.

The institution, founded in 1786, has on seven previous occasions chosen to reserve the prize: in 1915, 1919, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1936 and 1949.

"On five of those occasions, the prize was delayed then awarded at the same time as the following year's prize," the Academy said in a statement.

Though the prizes should be awarded annually, they can be postponed or skipped "when a situation in a prize-awarding institution arises that is so serious that a prize decision will not be perceived as credible," the Nobel Foundation, which governs all of the prizes, said in a statement posted online Friday morning.

"The crisis in the Swedish Academy has adversely affected the Nobel Prize. Their decision underscores the seriousness of the situation and will help safeguard the long-term reputation of the Nobel Prize."

Members for life

Mr Arnault and Ms Frostenson co-own Forum, a cultural centre in Stockholm that received funding from the academy.

Some events were said to have occurred at academy-owned properties in Stockholm and Paris, and at least one woman's complaints to the academy about Mr Arnault more than 20 years ago were rebuffed.

The crisis escalated when the academy dismissed another member, Sara Danius, as its permanent secretary, the group's chief official - the first woman to hold that post - though she remained part of the panel.

She had severed the group's ties with Mr Arnault and Forum, and commissioned an investigation of the academy from a law firm.

Her demotion prompted mass protests by critics who said that a woman had suffered for the misdeeds of a man, and that Ms Danius had been punished for trying to introduce openness and accountability to a group that preferred to close ranks.

Some of the academy's 18 members resigned over Ms Frostenson's continued membership, and several more quit over the treatment of Ms Danius. That has left the group with 10 active members - too few, under its rules, to elect new members.

But academy appointments are for life, and the organisation's rules do not provide for resignations; it considers those who have quit to remain members, albeit inactive, so they cannot be replaced.

That has prompted calls for King Carl XVI Gustaf - officially the academy's patron, but normally not an active participant - to step in.