Swedish Academy Won't Award Nobel In Literature Following Sex-Abuse Scandal

May 4, 2018
Originally published on May 4, 2018 6:44 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Nobel Prize in Literature will not be given out this year. The Swedish Academy was thrown into turmoil last fall when sexual harassment allegations surfaced against the husband of one of its members. The academy says it will postpone the award until next year. And next year, it's going to give out two. NPR Books editor Petra Mayer has been following the story.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: This isn't the first time that the academy has declined to give out a literature prize, but it is the first time since World War II. The academy has been embroiled in a really complicated, long-simmering scandal. Allegations surfaced in Swedish papers last fall that a prominent man later revealed to be the husband of an academy member had assaulted or harassed at least 18 women over the past two decades, including apparently Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria. The man also reportedly leaked the names of several Prize finalists. Three academy members resigned last month to protest their organization's handling of the allegations, and not long afterward, the head of the academy was forced to step down, leaving too few members and too much bad press to decide on a prize winner this year.

In a statement posted this morning, acting permanent secretary Anders Olsson said the decision was arrived at, quote, "in view of the currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence in the academy." Lars Heikensten is the executive director of the overall Nobel Foundation. He says it's imperative that the academy restore public trust, and today's announcement was a step in the right direction.

LARS HEIKENSTEN: It demonstrates that they take this seriously, and it gives them time to start with the changes necessary.

MAYER: Heikensten says it's up to the academy to make things right, but he would like to see a younger, more diverse membership.

PAUL BOGAARDS: I think many in the industry feel that this 2018 pause is appropriate.

MAYER: That's Paul Bogaards. He's the head of PR for Knopf Doubleday, which published last year's winner, Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as past winners, including Alice Munro and Orhan Pamuk. The Nobel is a big sales boost for whoever wins, especially if they've got a nice, fat back catalogue that publishers can rush into bookstores. Bogaards says he doesn't think this decision will damage the prestige of the prize. And, he adds, the Nobel Prize is based on a lifetime of work, not one book in one year.

BOGAARDS: So there would not be a determine made on the part of publishers to hold back a book because the Nobel Prize is not going to be awarded in 2018. The award itself has never been predictable. And in fact (laughter), you know, the people who probably make the most money on the Nobel Prize are the bookies at Ladbrokes.

MAYER: Petra Mayer, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.