Mason Faculty Member Speaks with National Public Radio on Nobel Literature Prize

by Anne Reynolds

Mason Faculty Member Speaks with National Public Radio on Nobel Literature Prize

On Thursday, October 10, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, and the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Austrian author Peter Handke.

The recognition followed a hiatus in 2018, borne of a scandal within the Swedish Academy, the institution charged with awarding the coveted prizes. Department of English faculty member Alok Yadav, who teaches courses in Eighteenth-Century British literature and postcolonial and world literature, spoke to National Public Radio about the unusual circumstances underlying the awards.

According to NPR, the husband of a Swedish Academy member, Jean-Claude Arnault, was accused with sexual assault or harassment of 18 women, and was later found guilty of rape. He was additionally charged with financial improprieties and leaking the names of winners. The charges, and the debate on how to handle them, split the academy. A number of the academy members left. Because they held lifetime appointments, they could not be replaced.

Yadav spoke to the crisis with NPR reporter Lynn Neary: “This produced a situation where there was a question - initially, at least - of whether the academy was going to disintegrate.”

Following the academy’s 2018 decision to not award the prize, it established a new permanent secretary and announced that members are no longer appointed for life; if a member leaves the academy, he or she can now be replaced. The makeup of the academy’s Nobel committee now comprises five academy members and five external experts. As Yadav noted in the NPR report, the new makeup is a solid step in reestablishing the reputation of the academy.

“It'll have a different kind of credibility,” he said. “It'll help widen the sense of the range of voices that are speaking in the deliberative process involved in selecting the winner.”