The Swedish Academy won’t name a Nobel laureate in literature this year, depriving the book industry of one of its main annual promotional events, and acknowledging the tarnish on the highest honor in letters.
The academy, which has awarded the prestigious prize since its creation in 1901, said Friday it needs time to repair the damage from a protracted scandal over allegations of sexual assault and financial impropriety.
The organization described itself as being “in a state of crisis” and said it would focus on rebuilding its 18-member jury, diminished by a cascade of departures that have left it without enough members to elect a winner. It plans to award two prizes next year.
Jean-Claude Arnault at the King’s dinner for Nobel Laureates in Stockholm on Dec. 11, 2015. Photo: Charles Hammarsten / Ibl Bildbyr/Zuma Press
“We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the academy before the next laureate can be announced,” the Swedish Academy’s statement read.
“It’s the only reasonable decision,” Ebba Witt-Bradström, a professor of literature and former wife of Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl, said in a telephone interview. “Who would want to receive a prize from this jury?”
The monthslong crisis has rocked the Nobel institution, a pillar of the national ethos in Sweden, and plunged a country that has long portrayed itself as a champion of gender equality into soul-searching.
The decision marks 2018 as the first year since World War II without a Nobel laureate in literature. The other Nobel honors—in physics, chemistry, medicine and for the promotion of peace—as well as the prize in economics, have their own juries, and are expected to be awarded in October.
The postponement is a disappointment for the publishing industry, which has capitalized on the prize to generate interest in winners and stir sales of their works, often in translation.
“In the past they have shed light on extremely worthy authors who were often obscure to English-language readers,” said Marian Schwartz, an award-winning translator of writers including Nina Berberova and Leo Tolstoy. “When an author wins, their entire body of work is going to be read. I can’t think of a foreign writer in recent times for whom this wasn’t a game-changer.”
The Swedish Academy’s decision may focus attention on the significance of the prize itself, which Michael Dirda, an author and a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for the Washington Post, said lies primarily in its ability to catapult writers with limited readership onto a global stage.
Crisis at the Nobel
Nov. 22, 2017
Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter publishes the testimonies of 18 women accusing French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Mr. Arnault denies the accusations.
Nov. 23, 2017
The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, stops financing cultural projects of Mr. Arnault, who is married to a member of the Nobel jury.
April 6, 2018
Three male jury members vacate their seats at the Swedish Academy to protest against a decision not to expel Mr. Arnault’s wife, Katarina Frostenson.
April 11, 2018
Sweden’s King Carl XVI says that, in his role as patron of the Swedish Academy, he is considering amending the institution’s bylaws to allow lifetime-elected jury members to resign and be replaced.
April 12, 2018
Ms. Frostenson and Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Sara Danius step down.
April 27, 2018
Jury member Sara Stridsberg also steps down.
May 4, 2018
The Swedish Academy announces it won’t award a Nobel in Literature this year.
Some winners, including Bob Dylan in 2016, were well-known before becoming Nobelists. Others were less so, such as the 2015 laureate, Belarusian author and journalist Svetlana Alexievich.
“The prize brings to light writers from different cultures and backgrounds who deserve a more global readership,” Mr. Dirda said.
He said the allegations that have been raised will in the long run encourage the formation of a more diverse and youthful committee. In turn, this will encourage a more 21st-century sense of what matters in literature, he said.
At the heart of the scandal are sexual-assault allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, a 71-year-old French photographer married to an academy member and recipient of its financial support.
The accusations, which Mr. Arnault denies, were made public last year. They have raised questions about whether members of the academy knew of the concerns and failed to report them to authorities.
Dissent within the jury over how to handle the crisis spilled into the open, prompting several members to leave their positions in protest.
In November, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published the testimonies of 18 women accusing Mr. Arnault of sexual assault and sexual harassment between 1996 and 2017.
Citing findings by a law firm it hired to conduct an independent investigation, the academy said the probe found the institution had breached its conflict-of-interest rules in providing financial support to Kulturplats Forum, a cultural association owned by Mr. Arnault and his wife, Katarina Frostenson.
The academy also said it had been alerted about alleged sexual assault at Kulturplats Forum as far back as 1996 but had taken no step to investigate the matter.
A lawyer for Mr. Arnault said his client denied the accusations. “All these unfair statements have one single purpose: to hurt my client’s reputation and damage his name,” Björn Hurtig said.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told reporters on Friday: “What has happened at the Swedish Academy hurts, it’s definitely not good for the reputation.”
Write to David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Appeared in the May 5, 2018, print edition as ‘Swedish Academy Postpones Nobel in Literature for a Year.’