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Culture

Nobel Literature Prize postponement a victory for #MeToo

media A general view of the old Stock Exchange Building, home of the Swedish Academy, in Stockholm, Sweden May 3, 2018. TT News Agency/Fredrik Sandberg/via REUTERS

The Swedish Academy announced today there would be no laureate for the Nobel in Literature this year. This is the first time in almost 70 years the prize has been postponed.

A deep crisis stemming from the 2017 #MeToo movement has shaken the Swedish Academy, which selects the laureates for the Nobel Literature Prize.

In the wake of the campaign, 18 women accused French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to poet and Academy member Katarina Frostenson, of sexual assault, rape and harassment.

Arnault ran a cultural centre in Stockholm, which was in part funded by the Academy, and was also accused of conflict of interest for allegedly leaking winners' names ahead of the official announcement.

The 71-year-old, who is an influential figure on the Swedish cultural scene, has denied the allegations but the 18 Academy members had serious disagreements about how to handle the situation. To date, six people have resigned over the question, including Frostenson.

Secrecy in the Academy

In a statement published 4 May, the Academy said it was postponing the prize to recover its credibility, rebuild its membership and undertake reforms.

However, British novelist Tim Parks says the prize is itself a problem.

"It's a stupid idea to ask 18 Swedish people to choose the best writer in the world," he says. "The only interesting thing about the Nobel Prize is why we want it anyway, knowing that it's stupid, and I think it's because we want an international conversation, we want to discuss and think about literature."

Critics of the Swedish Academy have long called for reform, citing, among other problems, its male-dominated membership and its secrecy.

"The scandal in Stockholm is due to the secrecy rules that surround all activities. Whenever people are permitted to act from behind closed doors for a long period of time, bad practices are bound to develop," says Fredrik Heffermehl, lawyer and researcher on the Nobel Peace Prize.

Victory for #MeToo

"This is showing how the social movements and the liberation of the voices of all those women and victims of sexual harassment has had its impact," says Soudeh Rad, a gender equality researcher and activist.

"But I'm also disappointed that we had to wait so long before we had a global movement against sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, so they could stop what they're doing and give themselves some time to review their actions."

"This is a call for everyone, everywhere to stop and review what is being done to fight against sexual harassment and discrimination," Rad says.

The last time the institution postponed the Nobel Literature Prize was in 1949, with William Faulkner receiving it a year later. According to the Nobel Foundation, the decision shows the seriousness of the situation.

The postponement of the award will not affect other categories of the Nobel Prize.

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