The Nobel Prize in Literature (Nobelpriset i litteratur) is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction" (original Swedish: den som inom litteraturen har producerat det utmärktaste i idealisk riktning). The "work" in this case refers to an author's work as a whole, though individual works are sometimes also cited. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize in any given year and announces the name of the chosen laureate in early October.
Nobel's choice of emphasis on "idealistic" or "ideal" (in English translation) in his criteria for the Nobel Prize in Literature has led to recurrent controversy. (In the original Swedish, the word idealisk can be translated as either "idealistic" or "ideal".) In the early twentieth century, the Nobel Committee interpreted the intent of the will strictly and did not award certain world-renowned authors of the time such as Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen and Henry James. More recently, the wording has been interpreted more liberally, and the Prize is awarded both for lasting literary merit and for evidence of consistent idealism on some significant level, most recently a kind of idealism championing human rights on a broad scale, and hence more political, some would argue.
"The highlight of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm is when each Nobel Laureate steps forward to receive the prize from the hands of His Majesty the King of Sweden. ... Under the eyes of a watching world, the Nobel Laureate receives three things: a diploma, a medal, and a document confirming the prize amount". In 2008 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, who was cited as "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization"; he will receive a prize amount of 10,000,000 SEK (slightly more than €1 million, or US$1.4 million).
The Swedish Academy has attracted significant criticism in recent years. Some contend that many well-known writers have not been awarded the prize or even been nominated, whereas others contend that some well-known recipients do not deserve it. There have also been controversies involving alleged political interests relating to the nomination process and ultimate selection of some of the recent literary Laureates.
Each year the Swedish Academy sends out requests for nominations of candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Members of the Academy, members of literature academies and societies, professors of literature and language, former Nobel literature laureates, and the presidents of writers' organizations are all allowed to nominate a candidate. However, it is not permitted to nominate oneself.
Thousands of requests are sent out each year, and about fifty proposals are returned. These proposals must be received by the Academy by 1 February, after which they are examined by the Nobel Committee. By April, the Academy narrows the field to around twenty candidates, and by summer the list is reduced further to some five names. The subsequent months are then spent in reviewing the works of eligible candidates. In October members of the Academy vote and the candidate who receives more than half of the votes is named the Nobel Laureate in Literature. The process is similar to that of other Nobel Prizes.
The prize money of the Nobel Prize has been fluctuating since its inauguration but at present stands at ten million Swedish kronor. The winner also receives a gold medal and a Nobel diploma and is invited to give a lecture during "Nobel Week" in Stockholm; the highlight is the prize-giving ceremony and banquet on December 10.
From 1901 to 1912, the committee was characterized by an interpretation of the "ideal direction" stated in Nobel's will as "a lofty and sound idealism", which caused Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola and Mark Twain to be rejected. During World War I and its immediate aftermath, the committee adopted a policy of neutrality, favouring writers from non-combatant countries.
Karel Capek's "War With the Newts" was considered too offensive to the German government, and he declined to suggest some noncontroversial publication that could be cited as an example of his work ("Thank you for the good will, but I have already written my doctoral dissertation").
Some attribute W. H. Auden's not being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to errors in his translation of 1961 Peace Prize winner Dag Hammarskjöld's Vägmärken (Markings) and to statements that Auden made during a Scandinavian lecture tour suggesting that Hammarskjöld was, like Auden, a homosexual.
In 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he declined it, stating that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."
The winner in 1970, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, did not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm for fear that the U.S.S.R. would prevent his return afterwards (his works there were circulated in samizdat -- clandestine form). After the Swedish government refused to honor Solzhenitsyn with a public award ceremony and lecture at its Moscow embassy, Solzhenitsyn refused the award altogether, commenting that the conditions set by the Swedes (who preferred a private ceremony) were "an insult to the Nobel Prize itself." Solzhenitsyn did not accept the award, and prize money, until 10 December 1974, after he was deported from the Soviet Union.
In 1974 Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow were considered but rejected in favor of a joint award for Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, both Nobel judges themselves. Bellow would win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976; neither Greene nor Nabokov was awarded the Prize.
Jorge Luis Borges has been suggested as a candidate for the Prize. His biographer, Edwin Williamson, considers that he did not win the award because of his support of right-wing regimes in Argentina and Chile.
Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren has also been overlooked, with some critics complaining that the Academy does not adequately recognize children's literature.
The award to Dario Fo in 1997 was initially considered "rather lightweight" by some critics, as he was seen primarily as a performer and had previously been censured by the Roman Catholic Church. Salman Rushdie and Arthur Miller had been strongly favored to receive the Prize, but the Nobel organisers were later quoted as saying that they would have been "too predictable, too popular.
There was also criticism of the academy's refusal to express support for Salman Rushdie in 1989, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie to be killed, and two members of the Academy resigned over its refusal to support Rushdie.
The choice of the 2004 winner, Elfriede Jelinek, was protested by a member of the Swedish Academy, Knut Ahnlund, who had not played an active role in the Academy since 1996; Ahnlund resigned, alleging that selecting Jelinek had caused "irreparable damage" to the reputation of the award.
The selection of Harold Pinter for the Prize in 2005 was delayed for a couple of days, apparently due to Ahnlund's resignation, and led to renewed speculations about there being a "political element" in the Swedish Academy's awarding of the Prize. The issue of the recipients' "political stance" was also raised in response to the awards of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk and Doris Lessing in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
The heavy focus on only European authors , and authors from Sweden in particular, has been the subject of mounting criticism even from major Swedish newspapers. The absolute majority of the laureates have been European, with Sweden itself receiving more prizes than all of Asia. In 2008, Horace Engdahl, the academy's permanent secretary, declared that "Europe still is the center of the literary world" and that "the US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature".
|1901||Sully Prudhomme||France||French||"in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect."|
|1902||Theodor Mommsen||Germany||German||"the greatest living master of the art of historical writing, with special reference to his monumental work, A History of Rome."|
|1903||Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson||Norway||Norwegian||"as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit."|
|1904*||Frédéric Mistral||France||Occitan||"in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist."|
|1904*||José Echegaray||Spain||Spanish||"in recognition of the numerous and brilliant compositions which, in an individual and original manner, have revived the great traditions of the Spanish drama."|
|1905||Henryk Sienkiewicz||Poland||Polish||"because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer."|
|1906||Giosuè Carducci||Italy||Italian||"not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces."|
|1907||Rudyard Kipling||United Kingdom||English||"in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author."|
|1908||Rudolf Christoph Eucken||Germany||German||"in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life."|
|1909||Selma Lagerlöf||Sweden||Swedish||"in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings."|
|1910||Paul Heyse||Germany||German||"as a tribute to the consummate artistry, permeated with idealism, which he has demonstrated during his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories."|
|1911||Maurice Maeterlinck||Belgium||French||"in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations."|
|1912||Gerhart Hauptmann||Germany||German||"primarily in recognition of his fruitful, varied and outstanding production in the realm of dramatic art."|
|1913||Rabindranath Tagore||India||Bengali||"because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West."|
|1915||Romain Rolland||France||French||"as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings."|
|1916||Verner von Heidenstam||Sweden||Swedish||"in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature."|
|1917*||Karl Adolph Gjellerup||Denmark||Danish||"for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals."|
|1917*||Henrik Pontoppidan||Denmark||Danish||"for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark."|
|1919||Carl Spitteler||Switzerland||German||"in special appreciation of his epic, Olympian Spring."|
|1920||Knut Hamsun||Norway||Norwegian||"for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil."|
|1921||Anatole France||France||French||"in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament."|
|1922||Jacinto Benavente||Spain||Spanish||"for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama."|
|1923||William Butler Yeats||Ireland||English||"for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."|
|1924||Władysław Reymont||Poland||Polish||"for his great national epic, The Peasants."|
|1925||George Bernard Shaw||Ireland||English||"for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty."|
|1926||Grazia Deledda||Italy||Italian||"for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general."|
|1927||Henri Bergson||France||French||"in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented."|
|1928||Sigrid Undset||Norway||Norwegian||"principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages."|
|1929||Thomas Mann||Germany||German||"principally for his great novel, Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature."|
|1930||Sinclair Lewis||United States||English||"for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters."|
|1931||Erik Axel Karlfeldt||Sweden||Swedish||"The poetry of Erik Axel Karlfeldt"|
|1932||John Galsworthy||United Kingdom||English||"for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga."|
|1933||Ivan Bunin||Russia (in exile)||Russian||"for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing."|
|1934||Luigi Pirandello||Italy||Italian||"for his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art."|
|1936||Eugene O'Neill||United States||English||"for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy."|
|1937||Roger Martin du Gard||France||French||"for the artistic power and truth with which he has depicted human conflict as well as some fundamental aspects of contemporary life in his novel cycle Les Thibault."|
|1938||Pearl S. Buck||United States||English||"for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."|
|1939||Frans Eemil Sillanpää||Finland||Finnish||"for his deep understanding of his country's peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature."|
|1944||Johannes Vilhelm Jensen||Denmark||Danish||"for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style."|
|1945||Gabriela Mistral||Chile||Spanish||"for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world."|
|1946||Hermann Hesse||Germany, 1923: Switzerland||German||"for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style."|
|1947||André Gide||France||French||"for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight."|
|1948||T. S. Eliot||United States, 1927: United Kingdom||English||"for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry."|
|1949||William Faulkner||United States||English||"for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel."|
|1950||Bertrand Russell||United Kingdom||English||"in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought."|
|1951||Pär Lagerkvist||Sweden||Swedish||"for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavours in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind."|
|1952||François Mauriac||France||French||"for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life."|
|1953||Winston Churchill||United Kingdom||English||"for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."|
|1954||Ernest Hemingway||United States||English||"for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style."|
|1955||Halldór Laxness||Iceland||Icelandic||"for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland."|
|1956||Juan Ramón Jiménez||Spain||Spanish||"for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity."|
|1957||Albert Camus||France||French||"for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times."|
|1958||Boris Pasternak (declined the prize)||Soviet Union||Russian||"for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition."|
|1959||Salvatore Quasimodo||Italy||Italian||"for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times."|
|1960||Saint-John Perse||France||French||"for the soaring flight and the evocative imagery of his poetry which in a visionary fashion reflects the conditions of our time."|
|1961||Ivo Andrić||Yugoslavia||Serbo-Croat||"for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country."|
|1962||John Steinbeck||United States||English||"for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception."|
|1963||Giorgos Seferis||Greece||Greek||"for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture."|
|1964||Jean-Paul Sartre (declined the prize)||France||French||"for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age."|
|1965||Mikhail Sholokhov||Soviet Union||Russian||"for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people."|
|1966*||Shmuel Yosef Agnon||Israel||Hebrew||"for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people."|
|1966*||Nelly Sachs||Germany, 1952: Sweden||German||"for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength."|
|1967||Miguel Ángel Asturias||Guatemala||Spanish||"for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America."|
|1968||Yasunari Kawabata||Japan||Japanese||"for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind."|
|1969||Samuel Beckett||Ireland||English/French||"for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation."|
|1970||Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn||Soviet Union||Russian||"for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."|
|1971||Pablo Neruda||Chile||Spanish||"for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams."|
|1972||Heinrich Böll||West Germany||German||"for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature."|
|1973||Patrick White||Australia||English||"for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature."|
|1974*||Eyvind Johnson||Sweden||Swedish||"for a narrative art, farseeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom."|
|1974*||Harry Martinson||Sweden||Swedish||"for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos."|
|1975||Eugenio Montale||Italy||Italian||"for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions."|
|1976||Saul Bellow||Canada, 1941: United States.||English||"for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."|
|1977||Vicente Aleixandre||Spain||Spanish||"for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man's condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars."|
|1978||Isaac Bashevis Singer||Poland, 1943: United States||Yiddish||"for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life."|
|1979||Odysseas Elytis||Greece||Greek||"for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness."|
|1980||Czesław Miłosz||Poland, 1970: United States, 1992: Lithuania (honorary)||Polish||"who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts."|
|1981||Elias Canetti||Bulgaria, 1952: United Kingdom||German||"for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power."|
|1982||Gabriel García Márquez||Colombia||Spanish||"for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."|
|1983||William Golding||United Kingdom||English||"for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today."|
|1984||Jaroslav Seifert||Czechoslovakia||Czech||"for his poetry which endowed with freshness, and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man."|
|1985||Claude Simon||France||French||"who in his novel combines the poet's and the painter's creativeness with a deepened awareness of time in the depiction of the human condition."|
|1986||Wole Soyinka||Nigeria||English||"in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence."|
|1987||Joseph Brodsky||Soviet Union, 1977: United States||Russian/English||"for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity."|
|1988||Naguib Mahfouz||Egypt||Arabic||"who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind."|
|1989||Camilo José Cela||Spain||Spanish||"for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability."|
|1990||Octavio Paz||Mexico||Spanish||"for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."|
|1991||Nadine Gordimer||South Africa||English||"who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity."|
|1992||Derek Walcott||Saint Lucia||English||"for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment."|
|1993||Toni Morrison||United States||English||"who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."|
|1994||Kenzaburo Oe||Japan||Japanese||"who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."|
|1995||Seamus Heaney||Ireland||English||"for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."|
|1996||Wisława Szymborska||Poland||Polish||"for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality."|
|1997||Dario Fo||Italy||Italian||"who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."|
|1998||José Saramago||Portugal||Portuguese||"who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality."|
|1999||Günter Grass||Germany||German||"whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history."|
|2000||Gao Xingjian||People's Republic of China, 1998: France||Chinese||"for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama."|
|2001||V. S. Naipaul||Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom||English||"for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."|
|2002||Imre Kertész||Hungary||Hungarian||"for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."|
|2003||J. M. Coetzee||South Africa, 2006: Australia||English||"who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."|
|2004||Elfriede Jelinek||Austria||German||"for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power."|
|2005||Harold Pinter||United Kingdom||English||"who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."|
|2006||Orhan Pamuk||Turkey||Turkish||"who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."|
|2007||Doris Lessing||United Kingdom||English||"that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny."|
|2008||Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio||France||French||"author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."|