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2018 Nobel Prize in Literature Postponed Amid Sexual Abuse Scandal



STOCKHOLM — The Swedish panel that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature said on Friday that it would take the extraordinary step of not naming a laureate this year — not because of a shortage of deserving writers, but because of the infighting and public outrage that have engulfed the group over a sexual abuse scandal.
The Swedish Academy said it would postpone the 2018 award until next year, when it will name two winners, making this the first year since World War II that the panel has decided not to bestow one of the world’s most revered cultural honors. The academy is involved only in the literature award, so other Nobel Prizes are not affected.
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,” Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of 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.”
Peter Englund, a member of the academy, wrote in an email: “I think this was a wise decision, considering both the inner turmoil of the Academy and the subsequent bloodletting of people and competence, and the general standing of the prize. Who would really care to accept this award under the current circumstances?”
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.
In November, a Swedish newspaper reported that 18 women said they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault, who is closely tied to the Swedish Academy and is accused of using his stature in the arts world to try to coerce women into sex. Other allegations against him emerged later, including a report that Mr. Arnault had groped Sweden’s crown princess, Victoria.
Through his lawyer, he has denied all of the allegations.
Mr. Arnault, a photographer, is married to a member of the academy, Katarina Frostenson; is a close friend to other members; and is co-owner, with Ms. Frostenson, of Forum, a cultural center 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.
In practical terms, the academy was prepared to stick to its usual schedule, winnowing potential laureates to a shortlist by summer and anointing a prize winner in October, its acting permanent secretary, Anders Olsson, told Swedish Radio on Friday. “But confidence in the academy from the world around us has sunk drastically in the past half year,” he said, “and that is the decisive reason that we are postponing the prize.”
The decision not to award the literature prize this year “is a sensational piece of news, but it was the only possible decision,” Bjorn Wiman, culture editor of the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, told Swedish Radio. “It wasn’t possible under these conditions to appoint a winner. It would have been an insult to anyone who received it.”
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 left the group with 10 active members — too few, under its rules, to elect new members.
But academy appointments are for life, and until this week, the organization’s rules did not provide for resignations; it viewed those who quit as members who had become inactive, but could not be replaced.
On Wednesday, King Carl XVI Gustaf, the academy’s patron, who said he had followed the matter “with great concern,” announced that he had changed the academy’s rules to allow members to leave, and to allow the panel to replace any member who had been inactive for two years. It was a rare intervention by the monarch, whose role is mostly ceremonial.
Mr. Olsson said: “We are bringing in legal expertise and we are going to get better at what we do. We must vote in new members, and fast.” He promised increased transparency, and “more and better dialogue” with the royal court and the Nobel Foundation.
After meeting on Thursday, members of the academy had voiced optimism that the prize could be awarded in October, as usual.
“I see it as self-evident that we are still capable of awarding the prize,” Kristina Lugn, a panel member, told Dagens Nyheter. “We have a short nomination list with five candidates left. If we can’t do this then I think everyone should resign.”
Such comments raise the possibility that the Nobel Foundation might have pressured the Swedish Academy to change its position.
“The Nobel Foundation presumes that the Swedish Academy will now put all its efforts into the task of restoring its credibility as a prize-awarding institution,” Mr. Heldin, the foundation chairman said, “and that the academy will report the concrete actions that are undertaken.”

Christina Anderson reported from Stockholm, and Richard Pérez-Peña from London.


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