March 6, 2019

Nobel Prize to return in 2019 (and make up for lost time)


Last autumn, The Swedish Academy—the prize-guys behind literature’s highest honor, the Nobel Prize—abstained from declaring a 2018 winner. The decision made sense, as the selection committee was being pulled apart from all sides.

As we put it in September:

In April of this year, the Swedish Academy, which determines the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was thrown into utter disarry, when Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of Academy member Katarina Frostenson, was accused of sexual harassment and/or rape by eighteen women. Frostenson’s refusal to step down in light of the allegations, and the Academy’s decision not to remove her from her post, led to the immediate departure of several academy members, including Klas Ostergren, Kjell Espmark, and Peter Englund. This was followed by a decree from the King of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf, modifying the terms of members lifetime appointments, and ultimately the postponement of the 2018 prize in literature.

Yesterday, The Nobel Foundation (which works in sort of a triangle with the Swedish Academy and the actual Nobel Committee) circulated a press release bearing the optimistic headline:

The Nobel Prize in Literature will once again be awarded, and this autumn Laureates for both 2018 and 2019 will be announced. The Nobel Foundation’s Board of Directors believes that the steps that the Swedish Academy has taken and intends to take will create good opportunities for restoring trust in the Academy as a prize-awarding institution.

The announcement highlights some of the efforts the academy has taken to clean up the last year’s messes: creating more financial transparency, electing new members, allowing members to resign, and the sort-of-low-seeming bar of assuring that no members undergoing criminal investigation will be admitted. There will also be five independent advisors weighing in on the decision.

While you await this year’s double-stuffed prize, you may check out the work of Maryse Condé who won the one-off New Academy Prize issued to keep us from engaging in a whole goddamn year of Nobel speculation.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.