Nobel Prize for literature postponed over abuse scandal

The Nobel Prize for Literature will not be awarded this year following sex abuse allegations that have tarnished the reputation of the Swedish Academy that selects the winner.

Scandal-hit Jean Claude Arnault  with his wife Katarina Frostenson. Picture: AP
Scandal-hit Jean Claude Arnault with his wife Katarina Frostenson. Picture: AP

The academy said yesterday the 2018 prize would be given in 2019.

The decision was made at a weekly meeting in Stockholm a day earlier on the grounds the academy was in no shape to pick a winner after a string of sex abuse allegations and financial crime scandals.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the academy before the next laureate can be announced,” permanent secretary Anders Olsson said.

He said the academy was acting “out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation and the general public”.

It will be the first time since 1949 the prestigious award has been delayed. Last year Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro won the prize.

The internal feud within the Swedish Academy, which only hands out one of the six Nobel prizes, was triggered by an abuse scandal linked to Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden who is also the husband of poet Katarina Frostenson – an academy member. The academy later admitted in a report that “unacceptable behaviour in the form of unwanted intimacy” took place within its ranks, but its handling of the allegations shredded the organisation’s credibility, called into question its judgment and forced its first female leader to resign.

A debate over how to face up to its flaws also divided its 18 members, who are appointed for life, into hostile camps. This prompted seven members of the institution to leave or disassociate themselves from the secretive group.

Members agreed to review the academy’s operating practices at this week’s meeting.

The academy said “work on the selection of a laureate is at an advanced stage and will continue as usual in the months ahead, but the academy needs time to regain its full complement”.

The world’s most prestigious prizes in science, medicine, literature and peacemaking have been withheld 49 times in all since the honours based on the will of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel started in 1901.

The Nobel literature prize was not given out on seven occasions, mainly due to war, but in 1935 because no candidate was deemed worthy.