Nobel prize in literature 2018 cancelled after sexual assault scandal


The Swedish Academy, which has become mired in controversy over its links to a man accused of sexual assault, announced on Friday morning that there would be no Nobel laureate for literature selected in 2018, as it attempts to come to terms with the unprecedented fallout.

For the first time in 75 years, the secretive jury that hands out the world’s most prestigious literary award will not unveil a winner this autumn, instead revealing two winners in 2019. The decision, announced at 9am Swedish time following a meeting on Thursday, comes after a string of sexual assault allegations made against the French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson.

On Friday, the Swedish Academy said that it took the decision “in view of the currently diminished Academy and the reduced public confidence in the Academy”.

“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. We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced. This is out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation, and the general public,” said Anders Olsson, interim permanent secretary of the academy.

After the allegations against Arnault were made public in November, three members of the 18-strong jury that selects the literature laureate resigned in protest over the decision not to expel Frostenson. Arnault was also accused of leaking the names of seven former Nobel winners. He denies both claims.

With academy members engaging in unprecedented fights in the Swedish press, permanent secretary of the academy Sara Danius resigned on 12 April – to widespread protests in Sweden over the implication that she was taking the hit for male misbehaviour – as did Frostenson, after a three-hour meeting.

Membership of the body, which was established in 1786 by Swedish king Gustav III, is intended to be for life, resulting in any resignations leaving an empty chair until the jury member’s death. Following the spate of recent resignations, the Swedish king Carl XVI Gustaf announced he would change the academy’s statutes, allowing new members to be appointed to replace resigning members.

With only 11 members currently sitting on the 18-person jury, the academy said on Friday that it would spend the year rebuilding its membership and overhaul its operative practices, including “modernis[ing]” its statutes, in particular the ability of members to resign. It also said that “routines will be tightened regarding conflict-of-interest issues and the management of information classified as secret”.

How the academy chooses the winner of the literature award has remained secretive over the last century. Each February, academy members review around 200 nominations, coming up with a shortlist by May, and then reading up on the five authors still in the running for the prize over the summer. The winner is the author deemed to best fulfil Alfred Nobel’s desire to reward “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.

The Nobel prize for literature has not been awarded on seven previous occasions since its launch in 1901, although previously never over a scandal: in 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943. The prize was paused during the first and second world wars and was not awarded in 1935 for reasons never disclosed. According to the academy’s statutes: “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year.”

The reputation of the prize, which has been won by names from Samuel Beckett to Rabindranath Tagore, was also called into question in 2016 when the academy voted for the musician Bob Dylan as its Nobel laureate “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

“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. None of this impacts the awarding of the 2018 Nobel prizes in other prize categories,” said chairman of the Nobel Foundation board, Carl-Henrik Heldin.

The Nobel Foundation now expects the academy to “put all its efforts” into “restoring its credibility”, Heldin added, calling on the remaining members to show “greater openness towards the outside world” in the future.