Following a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed the Swedish Academy for weeks, the Academy has pushed off awarding the 2018 prize in literature until next year, when two prizes will be awarded.
The Academy, the 18-member body that chooses a laureate and awards the Nobel Prize in Literature annually, has seen seven of its members depart, including its first-ever female leader. In a release, the Academy noted that this would be the eighth time in its history it had chosen to declare what it called a “reserved prize,” and the fifth time the delayed prize would be awarded at the same time as the following years time.
But this time is different. The Academy has been reckoning with accusations of sexual harassment as the #MeToo movement continues to spotlight sexual abuse and misconduct that has long gone unaddressed in numerous entertainment industries, including the literary and publishing worlds.
The uproar surrounds the behavior of French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, an associate of the Academy—he is married to one of its former members, Katarina Frostenson—who has been accused of sexually assaulting at least 18 women, including, possibly, the princess of Sweden. Arnault, through his lawyer, has denied all claims.
In the Academy’s release, it avoided addressing the issue of harassment.
“The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished Academy and the reduced public confidence in the Academy,” the release reads. “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.”
Among issues the Academy went on to spotlight as needing to be resolved were “the interpretation of the Academy’s statutes, principally the question of resignation of membership,” and the body noted that “routines will be tightened regarding conflict-of-interest issues and the management of information classified as secret. Further, internal work arrangements and external communication will be refreshed.” No further information surrounding its internal issues was mentioned.
“The active members of the Swedish Academy are of course fully aware that the present crisis of confidence places high demands on a long-term and robust work for change,” Anders Olsson, the body’s interim permanent secretary, stated. “We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced. This, out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation, and the general public.”
In a release on the Nobel website, the Nobel Foundation announced that it supported the Academy’s decision.
“In principle, the Nobel Prize shall be awarded every year, but decisions on Nobel Prizes have been postponed on a number of occasions during the history of the prizes,” the release read. “One of the circumstances that may justify an exception is when a situation in a prize-awarding institution arises that is so serious that a prize decision will not be perceived as credible.
It continued: “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…. We also assume that all members of the Academy realize that both its extensive reform efforts and its future organizational structure must be characterized by greater openness towards the outside world.”