Horace Engdahl

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Horace Oscar Axel Engdahl (born December 30, 1948) is a Swedish literary historian and critic, and has been a member of the Swedish Academy since 1997. He was the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, i.e. its spokesman, from 1999 to June 2009, when he was succeeded by historian Peter Englund.



Engdahl was born in Karlskrona, Blekinge. He earned his B.A. in 1970 [1] at Stockholm University; he earned his doctoral degree (fil. dr.) in 1987, with a study on Swedish romanticism, but had meanwhile been active as a literary critic, translator and journal editor, and was one of the introducers of the continental tradition of literary scholarship in Sweden. He is currently adjunct professor of Scandinavian literature at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. He speaks Swedish, English, German, French and Russian fluently.

On October 16, 1997, Engdahl became a member of the Swedish Academy, elected to seat number 17 vacated by the death of Johannes Edfelt; on June 1, 1999, he succeeded Sture Allén as the Academy's permanent secretary, i.e. its executive member and spokesperson. As such, he has the annual task of announcing the recipient of the Nobel prize in literature to the public. On December 20, 2008 it was announced that Engdahl after ten years will step down as the Academy's permanent secretary on June 1, 2009.[2]

He is married to Ebba Witt-Brattström, professor of literature at Södertörn University outside Stockholm. Together they have three sons.


In October 2008, Engdahl told the Associated Press that the United States is "too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world"[3] and does not really "participate in the big dialogue of literature."[4] His comments generated controversy across the Atlantic, with the head of the U.S. National Book Foundation offering to send him a reading list.[3] Engdahl was reported "very surprised" that the American reaction was "so violent". He did not think that what he said was "that derogatory or sensational" and conceded his comments may have been "perhaps a bit too generalizing".[3]

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