“In line with a decision taken back in May by the Academy, which with admirable restraint has kept it secret until today, I will be leaving my position of my own will on June 1, 2009, exactly 10 years after I took over from Mr. (Sture) Allen,” Engdahl announced late Saturday.
Engdahl, 59, will be succeeded by Peter Englund, 51, the Academy’s youngest member.
“He felt that it was time to hand things over to someone else,” said Engdahl’s assistant, Ulrika Kjellin Samuelsson, to the TT news agency.
After remaining secret for some time, the decision was revealed at the Academy’s final board meeting of the year in Stockholm on Saturday night.
Several days before the announcement, it became known that Engdahl had discussed his impending departure with the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.
“I promised that I’d go for ten years, then we’d see,” he told the newspaper as he recounted the reasons why he started with the job in the first place.
Engdahl says he now wants to spend more time expressing himself through his writing and “sitting in cafes” in Berlin, where his wife Ebba Witt-Brattström serves as a guest professor.
Engdahl’s outspokenness landed him in hot water recently when he accused US authors as suffering from cultural “ignorance.”
“The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining,” Engdahl said at the time.
According to Engdahl, the hardest aspect of the job is conducting discussions about picking a Nobel Prize winner.
Most enjoyable, on the other hand, is walking through the doors to announce the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.
The Academy, founded in 1786 in defense of “genius and good taste” and modelled on the Academie Francaise, has 18 members, often referred to in Sweden as “The Eighteen.”
Elected by their peers as members for life, they are only replaced after their death.
They act as guarantors of the Swedish language are drawn from the ranks of writers, poets and professors.
The body’s most prestigious task is selecting each year the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize, a task bestowed upon it by the founder of the prizes, Alfred Nobel, in his will in 1896.
This year the prize went to French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio for his work drawn from his vast world travels.
The head of the Swedish Academy is appointed for life, and the position officially holds the title of “permanent secretary,” though the holder may choose to step down, as in the case of Engdahl, who does plan, however, to stay on as a member of the Academy.