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Two Nobel Prizes in Literature to be awarded this year after scandal

Then-President Barack Obama, left, delivers a speech after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, during a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009. Two Nobel Prizes in literature will be awarded this year, the Nobel Foundation announced in a statement Tuesday.

[NEW YORK] Two Nobel Prizes in literature will be awarded this year, the Nobel Foundation announced in a statement Tuesday.

The literature prize, usually annual, was not awarded last year because the body that chooses the winner, the Swedish Academy, was hit by a scandal involving sexual abuse, accusations of financial wrongdoing and hints of a cover-up.

At the centre of the scandal were the poet Katarina Frostenson, a member of the academy, and her husband, Jean-Claude Arnault, who together ran a cultural organization in Stockholm that received sizable payments from the academy. Jean-Claude Arnault was accused of abusing the influence the organisation gave him, and of groping, harassing and assaulting at least 18 women.

Arnault, who was convicted of rape last year and sentenced to at least two years in prison, was also accused of leaking the names of award winners.

Since the scandal broke, the academy has been further rocked by resignations. Even King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, its patron, became publicly involved in the demands for change.

The academy has since taken measures that "create good opportunities for restoring trust," the Nobel Foundation said in a statement. Those include changing how winners are chosen "for the next few years." Five independent experts, including authors and literature critics, will participate in the selection process. Nobel literature laureates for both 2019 and 2018 will be announced in October.

But for some in Sweden, it is still too early to award a prize.

"The problem is the public trust in the academy is so nonexistent, really, it's embarrassing," Alexandra Pascalidou, founder of the New Academy Prize, said in a telephone interview.

The New Academy Prize was set up as a substitute for last year's Nobel Prize and gained global attention by involving the public and Swedish librarians in choosing its winner, the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé.

There are still members of the academy from the time of the scandal, although one prominent figure, Horace Engdahl, who had publicly questioned Arnault's rape conviction, resigned from the committee that suggests laureates Tuesday.

"They should leave," Pascalidou said.

The New Academy Prize was meant to be a one-off, but its members had yet to decide if it would go ahead this year anyway, she added.

"I'm a bit surprised by the decision, to be honest," Björn Wiman, culture editor of Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish newspaper that broke the scandal, said in a telephone interview. "I think the right decision would have been to award one prize but leave the one for 2018. That will just be a reminder of what happened and the catastrophic way the academy handled the allegations."

The prize could generate further controversy this year depending on who is chosen. In 2016, Bob Dylan's win prompted much argument over whether a songwriter should have received a literature prize.

"I really pity the author that will be awarded it," Wiman added. "They will forever be associated with a scandal."


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