2018 Nobel Prize for Literature could be scrapped with Swedish Academy mired in controversy

2018 may well be the year when no Nobel Prize for Literature is announced. Speculation over the status of the prize — awarded annually since 1901 — has been rife in recent weeks, with the Swedish Academy (the institution that picks the winners) embroiled in a leadership crisis and sexual harassment allegations.

On 26 April 2018, the Academy members convened to discuss if the Literature Nobel for 2018 should be scrapped in light of the ongoing controversy. However, no decision was reached by the members. Instead, the panel is expected to meet again, and announce a decision by 3 May.

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Kazuo Ishiguro poses with his Nobel Prize in Literature (2017), flanked by his wife Lorna MacDougall and his daughter. REUTERS

“After our next Thursday meeting there will most probably be a statement on whether we will award a prize this year or reserve it for next year, in which case two prizes for literature will be announced in October 2019," Per Wästberg, the head of the four-person panel that awards the Literature prize, told the Guardian

Previously, the Nobel Prize in Literature was not handed out in 1914, 1918, 1935, and during the years 1940 to 1943.

The Swedish Academy has found itself in the eye of a storm ever since sexual harassment allegations surfaced against a man with close ties to the members. In November 2017, several women spoke with a Swedish newspaper about alleged abuse at the hands of Jean-Claude Arnault, a photographer who is married to Swedish Academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson. About 18 women stepped forward to accuse Arnault.

One of the women had brought Arnault's misconduct to the attention of Swedish Academy member (then among its prominent administrators) Sture Allen back in 1996, via a letter. However, Allen didn't act on her complaint as he reportedly felt “the contents of the letter didn’t seem important”.

Arnault is also suspected of having leaked the names of Nobel Prize winners — the subject of intense conjecture, and against which many bets are placed — before the day of the announcements. The Swedish police has launched an investigation into the Swedish Academy in this regard.

A Stockholm cultural club run by Arnault has been subsidised by the Academy for several years.

Calls for Katarina Frostenson to step down from the Academy after the accusations against her husband surfaced have been one of the points of disagreement among the Academy's members. Frostenson has now been suspended.

As the row has escalated, the Associated Press reports that six of the 18 board members of the Academy have stepped down, including its secretary Sara Danius. (Membership to the Academy is for life.) Danius, the first woman to hold the post since the Academy was founded in 1786, resigned on 12 April amid criticism over her handling of the crisis.

Sweden's king, prime minister and the Nobel board have all expressed concern over the situation.


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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2018 18:41:59 IST

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