Swedish Academy

The Swedish Academy (Swedish: Svenska Akademien), founded in 1786 by King Gustav III, is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden. Its 18 members, who are elected for life, comprise the highest Swedish language authority. Outside Scandinavia, it is best known as the body that chooses the laureates for the annual Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in memory of the donor Alfred Nobel.

Swedish Academy
Svenska Akademien
Formation20 March 1786; 236 years ago (20 March 1786)
TypeRoyal academy
HeadquartersStock Exchange Building, Stockholm
18 members
Permanent secretary
Mats Malm


The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III. Modelled after the Académie française, it has 18 members. It is said that Gustaf III originally intended there to be twenty members, half the number of those in the French Academy, but eventually decided on eighteen because the Swedish expression De Aderton – 'The Eighteen' – had such a fine solemn ring.[1] The academy's motto is "Talent and Taste" ("Snille och Smak" in Swedish). The academy's primary purpose is to further the "purity, strength, and sublimity of the Swedish language" ("Svenska Språkets renhet, styrka och höghet") (Walshe, 1965).

To that end the academy publishes three dictionaries.[2] The first is a one-volume spelling dictionary called Svenska Akademiens ordlista (SAOL). The second is a multi-volume dictionary, edited on principles similar to those of the Oxford English Dictionary, entitled Svenska Akademiens Ordbok (SAOB). The SAOL has reached its 14th edition while the first volume of the SAOB was published in 1898 and, as of 2017, work has progressed to words beginning with the letter "Ä" (which is the second-to-last letter of the alphabet). The third is a two-volume dictionary edited at Gothenburg University and titled Svensk ordbok utgiven av Svenska Akademien ('Swedish dictionary published by the Swedish Academy'); it covers modern Swedish and includes pronunciations, etymologies etc, as well as definitions and some examples.

The building now known as the Stockholm Stock Exchange Building was built for the bourgeoisie. The bottom floor was used as a trading exchange (this later became the stock exchange), and the upper floor was used for balls, New Year's Eve parties, etc. When the academy was founded, the ballroom was the biggest room in Stockholm that could be heated and thus used in the winter, so the King asked if he could borrow it.

The academy has had its annual meeting there every year since, attended by members of the Swedish royal family.[3] However, it was not until 1914 that the academy gained permanent use of the upper floor as their own. It is here that the academy meets and, amongst other business, announces the names of Nobel Prize laureates. This task arguably makes the academy one of the world's most influential literary bodies.

Members are elected by a secret ballot in the Academy and before the result is made public it must be submitted to the Academy's Patron, the King of Sweden, for his approval. Members of the Academy include writers, linguists, literary scholars, historians and a prominent jurist. Initially writers were in the minority in the Academy, but during the twentieth century the number of writers grew to represent more than half of The Eighteen. The Swedish Academy have a long history of being a heavily male dominated institution, but the Academy has recently moved towards better equality. Since 20 December 2019 one third of the chairs belong to female Academy members.[4]

Prior to 2018 it was not possible for members of the academy to resign; membership was for life, although the academy could decide to exclude members. This happened twice to Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, who was excluded in 1794, re-elected in 1805 and excluded again in 1811. In 1989, Werner Aspenström, Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten chose to stop participating in the meetings of the academy, over its refusal to express support for Salman Rushdie when Ayatollah Khomeini condemned him to death for The Satanic Verses, and in 2005, Knut Ahnlund made the same decision, as a protest against the choice of Elfriede Jelinek as Nobel laureate for 2004.[5][6][7] On 25 November 2017, Lotta Lotass said in an interview that she had not participated in the meetings of the academy for more than two years and did not consider herself a member any more.[8]

Dag Hammarskjöld's farm in Backåkra, used as a retreat for academy members

Dag Hammarskjöld's former farm at Backåkra, close to Ystad in southern Sweden, was bought in 1957 as a summer residence by Hammarskjöld, then Secretary-General of the United Nations (1953–1961). The south wing of the farm is reserved as a summer retreat for the 18 members of the Swedish Academy, of which Hammarskjöld was a member.

On 11 April 2019, the academy published its financial statements for the first time in its history.[9] According to it, the academy owned financial assets worth 1.58 billion Swedish kronor at the end of 2018 (equal to $170M, €150M, or £130M).

The Swedish King is the only person who, apart from the members, has the right to attend the meetings of the academy. On March 3, 2022 the Swedish King attended a weekly academy meeting, the first time a Swedish king has done so in over 200 years.[10][11]

2018 controversiesEdit

In April 2018, three members of the academy board resigned in response to a sexual-misconduct investigation involving author Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of board member Katarina Frostenson.[12] Arnault was accused by at least 18 women of sexual assault and harassment;[12] he denied all accusations.[13] The three members resigned in protest over the lack of appropriate action against Arnault.[12][14][15] Two former permanent secretaries, Sture Allén and Horace Engdahl, called the current leader, Sara Danius, a weak leader.[12]

On 10 April, Danius resigned from her position with the academy,[16] bringing the number of empty seats to four. Frostenson voluntarily agreed to withdraw from participating in the academy, bringing the total of withdrawals to five. Because two other seats were still vacant after the Rushdie affair, this left only 11 active members. The scandal was widely seen as damaging to the credibility of the Nobel prize in Literature and the authority of the academy. "With this scandal you cannot possibly say that this group of people has any kind of solid judgment," noted Swedish journalist Björn Wiman.[12]

On 27 April 2018, the Swedish Economic Crime Authority opened a preliminary investigation regarding financial crime linked to an association run by Arnault and Frostenson, which had received funding from the academy.[17][18]

On 2 May 2018, the Swedish King amended the rules of the academy and made it possible for members to resign. The new rules also state that a member who has been inactive in the work of the academy for more than two years can be asked to resign.[19] Following the new rules, the first members to formally be granted permission to leave the academy and vacate their chairs were Kerstin Ekman, Klas Östergren, Sara Stridsberg and Lotta Lotass.[20]

On 4 May 2018, the Swedish Academy announced that following the preceding internal struggles the Nobel laureate for literature selected in 2018 would be postponed until 2019, when two laureates would be selected.[21]

Awards and prizesEdit

Since 1901, the Swedish Academy has annually decided who will be the laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in memory of the donor Alfred Nobel.

The Swedish Academy annually awards nearly 50 different prizes and scholarships, most of them for domestic Swedish authors. Common to all is that they are awarded without competition and without application. The Dobloug Prize, the largest of these at $40,000, is a literature prize awarded for Swedish and Norwegian fiction.[22][23]

The Big PrizeEdit

Swedish: Stora Priset, literally the Big Prize, was instituted by King Gustav III. The prize, which consists of a single gold medal, is the most prestigious award that can be awarded by the Swedish Academy. It has been awarded to, among others, Selma Lagerlöf (1904 and 1909), Herbert Tingsten (1966), Astrid Lindgren (1971), Evert Taube (1972) and Tove Jansson (1994).

Other awardsEdit

The academy awards around 50 prizes each year. A person does not have to apply nor compete for the prizes.

Full list of awards (in Swedish)

Current membersEdit

The current members of the Swedish Academy listed by seat number:

Seat Picture Member Born Age Elected Notes
1.   Eric M. Runesson 1960 62 2018
2.   Bo Ralph 1945 77 1999
3. vacant Following the death of Sture Allén in June 2022
4.   Anders Olsson 1949 73 2008 Permanent secretary 1 June 2018 - 1 June 2019[24]
5.   Ingrid Carlberg 1961 60 2020
6.   Tomas Riad 1959 63 2011
7.   Åsa Wikforss 1961 61 2019
8.   Jesper Svenbro 1944 78 2006
9.   Ellen Mattson 1962 60 2019
10.   Peter Englund 1957 65 2002 Permanent secretary 2009–2015.
11.   Mats Malm 1964 58 2018 Permanent secretary
12.   Per Wästberg 1933 89 1997
13.   Anne Swärd 1969 53 2019
14.   Steve Sem-Sandberg 1958 64 2020
15.   Jila Mossaed 1948 74 2018
16. vacant Following the death of Kjell Espmark in September 2022
17.   Horace Engdahl 1948 73 1997 Permanent secretary 1999–2009
18.   Tua Forsström 1947 75 2019

Permanent secretariesEdit

Order Seat Picture Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Born Years Notes
1. 11.   Nils von Rosenstein 1752 1786–1824
2. 13.   Frans Michael Franzén 1772 1824–1834
3. 12.   Bernhard von Beskow 1796 1834–1868
4. 5.   Johan Erik Rydqvist 1800 1868–1869 pro tempore
5. 15.   Ludvig Manderström 1806 1869–1872
6. 12.   Carl Gustaf Strandberg 1825 1872–1874 pro tempore
7. 9.   Henning Hamilton 1814 1874–1881
8. 11.   Bror Emil Hildebrand 1806 1881–1883 pro tempore
9. 8.   Carl David af Wirsén 1842 1883–1912 pro tempore in 1883–84
10. 6.   Hans Hildebrand 1842 1912-1913 pro tempore
11. 11.   Erik Axel Karlfeldt 1864 1913–1931
12. 14.   Per Hallström 1866 1931–1941
13. 13.   Anders Österling 1884 1941–1964
14. 7.   Karl Ragnar Gierow 1904 1964–1977
15. 14.   Lars Gyllensten 1921 1977–1986
16. 3.   Sture Allén 1928 1986–1999
17. 17.   Horace Engdahl 1948 1999–2009
18. 10.   Peter Englund 1957 2009–2015
19. 7.   Sara Danius 1962 2015–2018
20. 4.   Anders Olsson 1949 2018-2019 pro tempore April–June 2018[25][24]
21. 11.   Mats Malm 1964 2019- As of 1 June 2019[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Litteraturbanken | Svenska klassiker som e-bok och epub".
  2. ^ Store norske leksikon (2005–2007) (6 October 2017). "Svenska Akademien". Store norske leksikon.
  3. ^ "Royal attendance at the formal gathering of the Swedish Academy". Kungahuset.se. Swedish Royal Court. 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  4. ^ The Academy Swedish Academy
  5. ^ "Nobel Judge Steps Down in Protest". BBC News Online. BBC. 11 October 2005. Retrieved 13 October 2007.
  6. ^ Associated Press, "Who Deserves Nobel Prize? Judges Don't Agree", MSNBC, 11 October 2005. Retrieved 13 October 2007.
  7. ^ Harding, Luke (12 October 2005). "Nobel winner's work is violent porn, says juror". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  8. ^ Därför lämnade Lotta Lotass Svenska Akademien, 25 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Svenska Akademiens verksamhetsberättelse för 2018" (in Swedish). 11 April 2019.
  10. ^ "Kungen dök upp på Akademiens möte: "Det var nog 200 år sedan det inträffade"". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Dagens Nyheter. 7 March 2022. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  11. ^ "Kungen deltog i sammankomst". Swedish Academy (in Swedish). Swedish Academy. 4 March 2022. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d e Christina Anderson (12 April 2018). "In Nobel Scandal, a Man Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct. A Woman Takes the Fall". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  13. ^ Andersson, Christina (20 April 2018). "Nobel Panel Admits Inquiry Found Sexual Misconduct, but Nothing Illegal". The New York Times.
  14. ^ David Keyton (6 April 2018). "3 judges quit Nobel literature prize committee". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 7 April 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Sexual Misconduct Claim Spurs Nobel Members to Step Aside in Protest". The New York Times. Reuters. 6 April 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  16. ^ Åkerman, Felicia (12 April 2018). "Sara Danius lämnar Svenska Akademien" [Sara Danius leaves the Swedeish Academy]. Dagens Industri. Dagens Industri. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Förundersökning inledd kring Akademien" [Preliminary investigation started linked to the academy]. Svenska Dagbladet. Svenska Dagbladet. Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå. 27 April 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  18. ^ Tibbling, Jan (27 April 2018). "Förundersökning inledd i ärende med koppling till Svenska Akademien" [Preliminary investigation in a case linked to the Swedish Academy started]. Ekobrottsmyndigheten. Swedish Economic Crime Authority. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  19. ^ Holmgren, Mia (2 May 2018). "Kungen: Det är nu Akademiens ansvar att vidta nödvändiga åtgärder" [The King: The academy is now responsible for taking necessary action]. Dagens Nyheter. Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  20. ^ Andersson, Elisabet. "Fyra personer får lämna Akademien" [Four persons have been granted permission to leave the academy]. Svenska Dagbladet. Svenska Dagbladet. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Nobel Prize for Literature postponed amid Swedish Academy turmoil". BBC. BBC. 4 May 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  22. ^ Website of the Swedish Academy describing the prize (Swedish language)) Archived 16 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Store norske leksikon (2005–2007) (30 November 2021). "Doblougprisen". Store norske leksikon.
  24. ^ a b Anders Olsson Svenska Akademien
  25. ^ "Sara Danius ersättare: "Samtal med kungen ledde fram till detta"". Expressen (in Swedish). Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  26. ^ Lindkvist, Hugo (26 April 2019). "Mats Malm blir ny ständig sekreterare i Svenska Akademien". Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 26 April 2019.

Other sourcesEdit

  • Walshe, Maurice O'Connell (1965). "Introduction to the Scandinavian Languages", Andre Deutsch Ltd., 1st edition, p. 57

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 59°19′31″N 18°4′14″E / 59.32528°N 18.07056°E / 59.32528; 18.07056