Nobel Literature Prize suspended due to fallout from sexual assault scandal
Decision taken after the testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault, an influential figure on the Swedish culture scene, were published
For the first time in almost 70 years there will be no Nobel Literature Prize this year, as the Swedish Academy that selects the laureate finds itself in turmoil over links to a man accused of sex crimes amid the #MeToo campaign.
“We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced,” the Academy’s interim permanent secretary Anders Olsson said in a statement Friday, adding two prizes would be announced in 2019.
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, an influential figure on the Swedish culture scene.
Arnault, the French husband of Academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson, has denied the allegations.
The revelations have sowed deep discord among the Academy’s 18 members about how to handle the matter, and in recent weeks, six of them have chosen to resign, including permanent secretary Sara Danius.
“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,” Olsson said.
Seen as bearers of high culture, the Academy, founded in 1786, is traditionally known for its integrity and discretion, with its meetings and decisions shrouded in secrecy.
But the row has turned into a titillating public spectacle, with Academy members dealing ugly blows to each other in the media.
The last time the institution delayed a prize announcement was in 1949. William Faulkner received the prize a year later, the same year Bertrand Russell was honoured.
It has also reserved the prize on six other occasions: in 1915, 1919, 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1936, and four of those times the prize was delayed then awarded at the same time as the following year’s prize, the Academy said.
Several Academy members had recently suggested the 2018 prize could be postponed because of the turmoil, which has dragged the Academy’s reputation – and that of the Nobel Literature Prize – through the mud.
Literature experts in Sweden lamented the announcement, but agreed with the decision.
“I think it’s wise, this is the best decision they could make. 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 literature critic Maria Schottenius said.
Technically, Academy members have been appointed for life and have not been 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 he had changed the statutes, making it possible for members to resign and be replaced.
After the women spoke out in the media, the Academy cut all ties with Arnault’s cultural centre Forum in Stockholm, which it had subsidised for years and which was a key meeting point for the country’s cultural elite.
The centre, owned by Arnault and Frostenson, showcased exhibitions, readings and performances by both the cultural elite and hopefuls, including Nobel literature laureates. It is now closed.
A report commissioned by the Academy revealed conflicts of interest and the fact that Academy members leaked Nobel winners’ names.
But the Academy could not agree on what measures to take, with one camp defending Frostenson and the Academy’s old guard, while the other camp supported Danius, who wanted to carry out reforms.
Prosecutors announced in mid-March that they had dropped parts of their investigation against Arnault – concerning allegations of rape and assault between 2013 and 2015 – due to lack of evidence. The rest of the investigation is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s Economic Crimes Bureau last week said it was investigating a case “linked to the Academy”, which said it provided investigators with information about the subsidies paid to Arnault.
The scandal comes on the heels of the heavy criticism the Academy received in some circles for awarding the 2016 prize to US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. It honoured British author Kazuo Ishiguro with the 2017 prize.
Additional reporting by Associated Press