Nobel literature prize canceled this year, following academy’s own MeToo scandal

Embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal, the Swedish Academy will not award the Nobel literature prize in 2018, a statement on its web site said Friday. It has declined to award the prize seven times before, in years of war and when the academy determined that none of the nominees deserved it. The last time a Nobel literature prize was postponed was over six decades ago.

“The Swedish Academy intends to decide on and announce the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018 in parallel with the naming of the 2019 laureate,” according to the statement. “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.”

It added that the awarding of the other prizes would not be disrupted.

The Swedish Academy’s interim secretary had already indicated in an interview with Swedish radio last week that the committee was discussing a possible postponement of the prize and at least one of the committee members had publicly advocated for delaying the announcement. So far, six members of the 18-person committee have suspended their activities.

In a damning statement last week following an investigation, the secretive institution acknowledged in a news release that it was “in a state of crisis following a period of strong disagreement between members over important issues.” The statement was a surprisingly frank assessment of the organization’s failings in regard to sexual harassment allegations and upholding secrecy arrangements ahead of the winner’s announcement, which is made in early October.

But last Saturday, the academy’s woes worsened further as details emerged about an alleged sexual harassment scandal. Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet quoted three people describing a 2006 incident in which French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of former Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson, allegedly groped the heir to the Swedish throne, Crown Princess Victoria, during an academy event.

In response to the revelations, the Swedish royal family expressed its support of the #MeToo movement but did not comment on the specific 2006 incident. Arnault has denied the incident happened and has also rejected similar, separate accusations.

Last year, 18 women accused Arnault of having committed sexual assaults or having harassed them, with several of them believed to have occurred on the property of the Swedish Academy. After Frostenson, Arnault’s wife, was removed from the institution’s committee in response to the allegations, a number of other members vowed to give up their active memberships, even though they are not allowed to resign.

Committee members are part of the 18-person body for life, which is why their de-facto resignations have thrown the academy into deep trouble.

A reform of the organization will soon allow members to leave voluntarily, so that they can be replaced by successors. In its statement Friday, the academy indicated reforms to “modernize the interpretation of the Academy’s statutes, principally the question of resignation of membership.”

“In addition, routines will be tightened regarding conflict-of-interest issues and the management of information classified as secret,” the academy announced.

In a prior statement last week, the Nobel Prize-awarding institution confirmed that it had obtained a legal firm to investigate to what extent senior members were aware of the sexual harassment and assault allegations before the public protest.

“The investigation revealed that unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy had indeed taken place, but the knowledge was not widely spread in the Academy. Neither was the Academy aware of anything that might be described as criminal sexual assault,” the Swedish Academy defended itself last Tuesday, even though it acknowledged that a letter containing detailed allegations about incidents at an associated organization in 1996 “was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges.”

“The reputation of the Nobel Prize in literature has suffered greatly from the publicity surrounding the Academy’s crisis,” the academy wrote.

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