Nobel Prize in Literature

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.

Nomination procedure

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.

Non-laureates and controversies

The Prize in Literature has a history of controversial awards and notorious snubs. Many notable literati have noted that more indisputably major writers have been ignored by the Nobel committe than have been honored by it, including Tolstoy, Chekhov, Joyce, Borges, Nabokov, Graham Greene and others, often for political or extra-literary reasons.

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".

List of Laureates

In the table below, the language is the language of the Laureate's works. (Source: The Nobel Foundation.)
Year Name Nationality Language(s) Citation
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."
1914 [no award]
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."
1918 [no award]
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."
1935 [no award]
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."
1940-'43 [no award]
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."
* Years with multiple recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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