Drama roiling Swedish Nobel literature body could rival any novel



STOCKHOLM, Lennart Simonsson (dpa)- The Swedish Academy - best known for selecting the Nobel Prize in Literature - is facing its worst crisis in decades, which shows no signs of abating after the resignation of its permanent secretary.
Prolific British crime author Agatha Christie was likely never considered a serious contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.



But the title of her best-selling book "And Then There Were None" perhaps best sums up recent events in the Swedish Academy, the body best-known for selecting the Nobel literature laureate.
The past week has been labelled the academy's worst crisis in its over 200-year history.
Five members this week - notably Sara Danius, the first woman to head the 18-member academy since 1786 - have said that they would no longer take part in its work. In all, seven members are now no longer active.
Danius said Friday that she had taken on the task of permanent secretary in 2015 because she "felt there was support for [her] ambition" to ensure that the academy was in step with the times.
The academy should also "be a force" that tackles "expressions of misogyny," her statement read.
At the core of the recent shake-ups in the academy is a deep divide over how to handle allegations raised against one of its members, poet Katarina Frostenson and her husband.
In November, the academy hired a law firm to investigate sexual harassment allegations by 18 women against the husband. He denies the allegations.
According to a confidential report, Frostenson violated conflict-of-interest rules by failing to disclose she was co-owner of a performance venue run by her husband that formerly received funding from the academy.
Anders Olsson, who has stepped in as interim permanent secretary, said a deal was struck at Thursday's session where Frostenson would also step aside while Danius agreed to leave as permanent secretary.
He said "the compromise was necessary as part of efforts to reconstruct the academy" and bridge differences between feuding factions.
Danius' leadership style has ruffled feathers, and she has been criticized for failing to properly secure support for some decisions among members, Stockholm daily Expresssen cultural editor Karin Olsson said.
The academy is completely independent and prides itself on a long history. Created in 1786 by King Gustav III, it has been seen as a bastion for fine culture.
It has an influential role in Swedish cultural life, funding the arts through grants and stipends, in addition to advancing the Swedish language. It is very wealthy - and exempt from taxes. Financial records are confidential.
However, the academy is best known internationally for the Nobel literature prize. It has picked 114 laureates since 1901.
The ongoing spat has reverberated far beyond its headquarters in Stockholm's Old Town. "A power struggle that tops a Shakespearean drama," blared one headline in the daily Dagens Nyheter on Friday.
Even King Carl XVI Gustaf, patron of the academy, has expressed his concern. In an unusual move earlier this week, the king said his "firm view" was that he has the final say on the statutes of the academy.
The palace said Friday that work was under way to review clauses that would allow members to resign.
Until now, the 18 academy members, appointed for life, keep their status even if they no longer participate in the body actively.
Earlier Friday, author Klas Ostergren had written in the daily Svenska Dagbladet that he had "formally requested" to leave the body. A week ago, he and two other members had said they were stepping aside after a failed vote to expel Frostenson.
That clause has, for instance, affected author Kerstin Ekman.
She stopped attending sessions in 1989 to protest a decision not to sign an appeal condemning the death threat issued by Iran's then religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini against British-Indian author Salman Rushdie.
The Rushdie crisis was long considered one of the academy's main shortcomings.
Danius, meanwhile, has received support from several quarters.
Four cabinet members, including Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, donned pussy-bow blouses on Friday in support of Danius, who's known for wearing that kind of clothing.
On social media, other authors and politicians posted selfies wearing bow-tie blouses or scarves tied in bows under the hashtag #knytblus (pussy-bow blouses).
Per Wastberg, who has sided with Danius but said he would remain an academy member, called the trade-off regarding Danius and Frostenson was "a blot on the academy that can't be removed."
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Monday, April 16th 2018
Lennart Simonsson (dpa)
           


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