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The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 Cancelled in the Wake of #MeToo

Erika Harlitz-Kern

Staff Writer

Erika Harlitz-Kern holds a doctorate from a Swedish university and can't get enough of history, books, and music. Her earliest memories involve a comic book and a Dutch troubadour. She has travelled South Asia on a shoestring, although nowadays she spends most of her vacations in the Mississippi Delta. Lives with her husband in South Florida, because sooner or later they would've ended up there anyway. Blog: The Boomerang Twitter: EH_Kern

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 has been cancelled in the wake of #metoo allegations, criminal investigations, conflicts of interest, and resignations by nearly half of the members of the Swedish Academy.

The decision was made during the Swedish Academy’s weekly Thursday meeting on May 3, and was made public through a press release on the morning of May 4.

According to the press release, the decision was made “in view of the currently diminished Academy and the reduced public confidence in the Academy.” The Academy intends to continue the work on selecting the 2018 Nobel Prize laureate; however, the prize will be postponed until 2019, when consequently two laureates will be awarded.

The press release also states that the postponement of the Nobel Prize in Literature is an opportunity for the Swedish Academy to reform itself internally. These reforms will address, among other things, the statutes of membership, managing conflicts of interest, the non-disclosure agreements signed by the members, and the routines surrounding external communications.

Too Little Too Late

These reforms seem self-evident. However, it has taken the Academy much too long to reach this decision, and much of the damage done to the reputation of the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Foundation, and the Swedish Academy could have been avoided. The decision to postpone the prize is only the latest development in a scandal that began to unravel already in November 2017 when the #metoo movement reached Sweden and the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published an article where eighteen women accused a man later identified as Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of Academy member Katarina Frostenson, of sexual assault.

Following these revelations, then-Permanent Secretary Sara Danius asked the Stockholm law firm Hammarskiöld & Co. to investigate the ties between Arnault and the Academy. The current crisis erupted when that investigation was completed and showed severe conflicts of interest regarding Arnault and members of the Academy. The law firm recommended that the Swedish Academy hand over the investigation to the authorities for a criminal investigation. Because of the secrecy surrounding the inner workings of the Swedish Academy, the Academy decided not to take this advice.

Since the investigation was completed, six members of the Academy have resigned, one of them being Secretary Danius, who Horace Engdahl, Academy member and one of Arnault’s most staunch defenders, in a column in the Swedish newspaper Expressen called the worst Secretary in the history of the Academy. The latest member to resign is Sara Stridsberg, who announced her resignation on April 27.

The Future of the Swedish Academy

The Swedish Academy is currently working to save itself and its reputation, both in Sweden and abroad. The Academy’s royal protector, His Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf has changed the statutes regarding membership making it possible for a member to permanently resign. Since this change was made, Lotta Lotass, who left the Academy in 2015, Klas Östergren, and Sara Stridsberg, who both resigned in April 2018, have handed in their resignations.

Moreover, the Swedish Academy is under criminal investigation for financial misconduct. It should be noted that charges were filed against the Academy by a person outside of the Academy who remains nameless. The Academy handed over the investigation by Hammarskiöld & Co. as a result of the anonymous filing, as well as a result of public pressure to take action.

The Future of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Book Riot has previously pointed out the glaring lack of diversity among Nobel Prize literature laureates, and there are no indications that 2018 would be the year that bucks that trend. The work on the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018 is well underway and is going according to schedule. According to the Swedish Academy, the Nobel committee has narrowed the candidates down to a short-list of five final candidates.

Even though the Swedish Academy is down to ten members out of eighteen, the Academy’s Nobel committee is intact. Moreover, the work of selecting each year’s short-list, and ultimately the award’s recipient, starts in February. In other words, by the time the Academy began to fall apart, this year’s process was already well underway. Therefore, there is a chance that the laureate of 2018 will be a sign of continuity rather than change.

Further reading on Book Riot:
The Swedish Academy Collapses. Two Additional Members Have Resigned.

The Disintegration of the Swedish Academy. Is This the End for the Nobel Prize in Literature.