The Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel. Just saying it gives me shivers. wow. This is the biggie. Only 108 folks can claim it. And that includes the ones who are deceased. Only 8 people have SHARED it. It’s  normally a one person, all the glory kind of thing.  Awarded by the Swedish Academy who administers the awards per Alfred Nobel’s will, this is one of the 5 Nobel Prizes. (The others are either science-y or the peace prize, also big deals.) This award is given not for a specific work, but for the author’s body of work, even though it sometimes takes that one BIG novel to propel someone into the spotlight. Click HERE for the official website. Factoids about the Nobel I never knew:

  • The academy of 18 members, sends out submission requests to over 600 people who they deem qualified to nominate recipients. Only about 1/3 of these get returned. Can you imagine not sending one back? Anyway…
  • Once the academy gets the submissions, they get narrowed down substantially until there are about 20 authors who are seriously considered.
  • Then, the academy narrows that to the top 5 and spends a few months reading all their works. seriously.
  • I have no idea about the details. I’m still impressed that they re-read everything.
  • After all that, they choose the Laureate (Nobel speak for the big winner).
  • Apparently, you have to be nominated at least twice to win (unwritten rule I think), so the top 5 can be the same few folks for a few years running.

Along with the medal itself (a gold one, of course), a diploma, there is a cash prize. And fame.

As with all awards, there has been controversy. Some of the issues, in brief:

  • Is there a Swedish Bias? (apparently, there have been a disproportionate number of Swedish winners to some folks)
  • Is there a group of authors who have been neglected? Originally, Nobel’s will specifying all the criteria included the word “ideal.” For most of the 20th cent. that was applied so that the winner had to have some element of idealism, optimism, or elevation of the human condition. Ergo, folks who were not-so-idealistic (James Joyce, Henry James, Tolstoy etc.) didn’t win, or folks who just weren’t “literary” enough (Mark Twain is my favorite example) never won.
  • Is there too much political emphasis? From the claims of Eurocentric choices, skipping over some folks due to nationality, or choosing someone for a political statement vs. literary quality have all been gripes thrown around.

Here’s the thing though. I think some of these issues are fairly valid, but who am I to complain. Other than this blog, I don’t share my writing. If an author who feels they are worthy of the prize complains, it comes off as sour grapes. Even if they have a point. Recently, some newspapers and folks with the voice to say something have gotten more vocal…but I doubt anything will happen.

Here’s a great list of factoids:

And here’s the Wikipedia, with a much longer and wordy explanation of the controversies.


ETA: After I posted, I started wondering who exactly the Swedish Academy is…turns out it’s a Royally appointed group that governs all things linguistic for the Swedes, including publishing dictionaries & the Swedish Literary awards….

Are you out there? Hello? Anyone? (Thanks for reading! )

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