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Two Nobel Prizes for Literature awarded

Nadine Wojcik law
October 10, 2019

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature while the 2019 prize goes to Austrian writer Peter Handke. The dual announcement came after last year's scandal over sexual harassment and corruption.

Symbolbild Nobelpreis
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

In the double annoucement on Thursday, the Swedish Academy lauded Tokarczuk's "narrative imagination" and "encyclopedic passion," honoring Handke, in turn, for "an influential work" that explores "the periphery and the specificity of human experience."

Infografik Nobelpreis Literatur 1901 2019 EN

In the history of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 2018 was truly not a good year. Allegations of sexual harassment, rape, corruption, breach of confidentiality — month after month the scandals surrounding the Swedish Academy kept coming. By the end of the year, the once venerable literary institution had almost torn itself apart with publicly fought battles.

The Academy's arguably most serious crisis was triggered by revelations about Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of former committee member Katarina Frostenson. At least 18 women came forward with assault claims against Arnault. In one case, he was convicted of rape. As a result of the self-destructive handling of the scandal, a series of resignations of the original 18-member committee followed, which left the organization unable to function due to understaffing. Eventually, it was announced that the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature had been cancelled.

'There are bruises'

Sara Danius
Sara Danius, who resigned from the Swedish Academy in April 2018 Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Ekstomer

After the dust settled, a large number of new members — Swedish writers, translators and philosophers — were carefully selected, the last of them in May of this year. Swedish King Carl Gustaf changed the statutes to allow this, as the former academy members had actually been elected for life. "It has been painful. There are bruises," admitted Mats Malm at the Gothenburg Book Fair. The literary historian and translator is one of the new members and now also the permanent secretary of the Academy, following his predecessor Sara Danius' resignation. Also new this year are five external consultants, writers, literary critics and translators, who will bring a breath of fresh air to the decision-making process in 2019. 

Double award

In order for the Swedish Academy to regain confidence, two prizes have now been awarded: one retroactively for 2018 and another for 2019.  

Malm's predecessor Danius thinks that presenting two awards is a mistake. Out of respect for the people who were sexually assaulted, one should not try to now make good by rewarding the 2018 prize. "By not doing so, one would then be able to remember that something had actually happened," the Swedish literary scholar said on Swedish television in March 2019.

Speculation and odds

The names of the nominees traditionally remain under lock and key for 50 years. According to information from the German Press Agency (DPA), we at least now know the number of candidates for each year: 194 for 2018 and 189 for 2019.