1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Nobel Prize in literature will not be awarded in 2018

May 4, 2018

The Swedish Academy has said it will postpone this year's Nobel Prize in Literature but plans to award it next year. The decision makers cited the "crisis" around sex abuse that has caused some Academy members to resign.

A Nobel Prize winner's medal

The Swedish Academy, which organizes the Nobel Prize in Literature, announced Friday that it will not award the 2018 honor due to sex abuse allegations that have raised turmoil among the academy members and cast critical light upon the prestigious annual award.

'Confidence in the Academy is so low'

"The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence in the Academy," the academy's press release read.

The group's permanent secretary, Anders Olsson, said: "We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the academy before the next laureate can be announced."

He added that the cultural institution also made the decision to delay the 2018 award "out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation and the general public."

The academy said it intended to bestow the 2018 literature award in 2019.

Read more: How a #MeToo scandal is rocking the Nobel literature academy

Nobel Prize Foundation supports delay

The Nobel Prize Foundation, which manages the assets for the row of Nobel Prizes, said it backed the decision to postpone this year's literature prize.

"The crisis in the Swedish Academy has adversely affected the Nobel Prize," Carl-Hendrik Heldin, president of the foundation's board, said in a statement.

The decision of the academy "underscores the seriousness of the situation and will help safeguard the long-term reputation of the Nobel Prize. None of this impacts the awarding of the 2018 Nobel Prizes in other prize categories," he added.

However, Heldin underscored that the academy should now undertake all it can to recover its integrity in the aftermath of the sex scandal: "The Nobel Foundation presumes that the Swedish Academy will now put all its efforts into the task of restoring its credibility as a prize-awarding institution and that the Academy will report the concrete actions that are undertaken."

The Nobel Prize Foundation was created in 1900 to administer the will investor Alfred Nobel, which funds the prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. The institution's rules allow a prize to be postponed for a year. 

Read more: The Nobel Prizes - what you need to know

#MeToo scandal engulfs the academy

The Swedish Academy's decision to delay the 2018 award and bestow it in 2019 — alongside that year's winner — came after the cultural and linguistic body had been engulfed by crisis at the end of last year following revelations of alleged rampant sex abuse perpetrated by a high-profile figure associated with the organization. 

In November, a Swedish newspaper published testimonies of 18 women who claimed to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault, the French husband of academy member Katarina Frostenson and an influential voice on the Swedish cultural scene. He and his wife ran a cultural club that received funding from the academy.

Arnault has also been accused of leaking the names of literature prize nominees. He denies all accusations.

Sara Danius stands in front of press microphones
Sara Danius, the first woman to serve as premanent secretary of the Academy, stepped down in the wake of the sex scandalImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Ekstomer

The revelations threw the academy into turmoil, causing several members of the 18-person group to disassociate themselves or resign, including Sara Danius, the first female head of the academy that was founded in 1786. Frostenson also agreed to step down. 

While the academy has admitted that "unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy" took place internally, the admission has not been enough to stem the fallout to the group's damaged reputation.

"The Academy needs time to regain its full complement, engage a larger number of active members and regain confidence in its work," the body said in its press release on Friday. 

An institution divided — like any other

In an April statement to Spanish daily El Pais, the 2010 literature Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, described the affairs plaguing the Academy as "a great scandal that has led to a major break up."

However, he simultaneously said that, as terrible as the scandal is, it is a local affair happening within a body of global significance. "The division [of the Academy] has brought to light rivalries that exist in all institutions," Vargas Llosa said. He called for justice regarding the accusations but underlined that "the scandal should not affect an institution that has always enjoyed respect and an international audience."

The academy has chosen the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature starting in 1901. Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro won the prize last year

The Swedish Academy pointed out that this year is not the first time it has decided to delay the prize: the group declared a "reserved prize" in 1915, 1919, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1936 and 1949, with five of those postponed prizes being awarded at the same time as the following year's prize.

Additionally, no Nobel prizes at all were awarded during the World War II years of 1940-42.