The Nobel Literature Prize medalImage copyright AlfredNobel.org
Image caption The Nobel Literature Prize is in crisis in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal

The Swedish Academy will announce on Friday whether the Nobel Prize for Literature will go ahead this year amid the biggest scandal to hit the award since it was founded in 1901.

The organisation says it faces a crisis over its handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by the French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault.

Some academy members say the prize must proceed to protect the tradition.

Others argue that the institution is in no state to present the award.

What sparked the crisis?

Divisions started to emerge last November when Mr Arnault, who ran a cultural project with funding from the Swedish Academy, was accused by 18 women of sexual assault.

Several of the alleged incidents reportedly happened in properties belonging to the academy. Mr Arnault denies the allegations.

The organisation later voted against removing Mr Arnault’s wife, the poet and writer Katarina Frostenson, from its committee.

This, along with accusations of conflict of interest and the leaking of Nobel winners’ names, is said to have divided the organisation.

What followed was a wave of resignations, including Ms Frostenson and the head of the academy, Prof Sara Danius.

Only 11 members are now in place. Of those, one, Kerstin Ekman, has been inactive since 1989, when the academy refused to condemn the fatwa issued over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Statutes require a quorum of 12 to vote in any new members.

Technically, members are appointed for life to the Swedish Academy and cannot resign, although they can refuse to take part. Academy patron King Carl XVI Gustaf has said he will change the rules to allow them to quit formally.

So what happens next?

The Swedish Academy has promised to issue a statement on whether a prize will be awarded this year or reserved for next year.

If the academy decides to postpone it, two prizes for literature will be announced in October 2019.

It is not clear which way it will go, but one source earlier suggested to Swedish radio station SR that shelving this year’s award was the only way to restore the organisation’s “prestige”.

It may also be that in light of the #MeToo campaign, which showed the prevalence of sexual assault, it would be difficult for potential winners to accept the prize with the academy in turmoil.

A statement from the academy said the Nobel Prize for Literature’s reputation had suffered “greatly”, promising a plan to restore public confidence in the organisation.

The Nobel prizes

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel set up the prizes in his will in 1895
  • The five were Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics and Physiology (Medicine)
  • The Nobel Prize for Economics was set up in 1968 in memory of Alfred Nobel
  • The awards are decided by different bodies. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences oversees Physics, Chemistry and Economics. The Nobel Assembly awards Medicine and the Swedish Academy covers Literature. Peace is the only award not decided by a Swedish organisation – the Norwegian Nobel Committee decides it
  • Literature has been awarded annually since 1901. The winner receives a gold medal, a diploma and a cash sum based on the Nobel Foundation’s income for the year. The laureate is invited to give a lecture and there is a banquet and award ceremony on 10 December
  • The only year the Literature prize was not awarded outside of world war years was 1935, when no worthy winner could be decided

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *