The Nobel Prize for Literature
The Nobel Prize for Literature is one of the five awards established by the will of Swedish scientist and inventor Alfred Nobel, the others being for Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine and Peace, and is perhaps the world's most prestigious literary award. The prize money has varied a great deal, but is currently equivalent to roughly £1m.
First awarded in 1901, it is awarded for a body of work, rather than just one book, and rewards an author who 'shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction'. The opaque nature of the Nobel Academy's deliberations has led to much speculation about how this is interpreted and accusations of political intent have often been made. Selected academics and distinguished writers are given the opportunity to nominate candidates and reports on each (the names are never revealed) are presented to the relevant Academy institution, who vote on a winner at some point in November.
Their decision is announced immediately it is made and, in 2007, this led to a shock for Doris Lessing: the Nobel administrators had been unable to contact her on the day since she was out shopping and she only found out that she had won when she returned home to find a crowd of reporters on her doorstep.
The award was made posthmously to Swedish symbolist poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt in 1931. No other writer has been honoured after death and in 1974 the rules were changed so that the award could only be made to a living writer.
The award ceremony is held in Stockholm, with the winner's Medal presented by the King of Sweden; the winner's Nobel Lecture is keenly awaited, not least because the content is often quite political and, consequently, controversial. In 2005, for example, Harold Pinter's Lecture, which was pre-recorded due to his ill health at the time, featured scathing attacks on George W Bush, Tony Blair and the war in Iraq.
With the global scope of the Prize, there has been regular controversy about the eventual choices. As with the other Nobel Prizes, many critics and even some members of the Academy, feel that the Prize is too Eurocentric, with over three-quarters of the winners coming from Europe. The first non-European was India's Rabindranath Tagore in 1913. France has more winners than any other nation, with 15 so far. There have been ten British Laureates: Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, T S Eliot, Winston Churchill , Elias Canetti, William Golding, V S Naipaul, Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing.
Some winners have been criticised as too obscure for such a prestigious award, but others have been criticised as too populist. Certain major names crop up each year as likely candidates and, when they fail to win, it is often suggested that there may be political reasons for their being overlooked, particularly in recent years. The failure of either Jose Luis Borges or Vladimir Nabokov to win is often put down to such issues and the Academy was publicly divided by the candidature of Salman Rushdie in 1989, the year of the fatwa issued against him. Philip Roth and Chinua Achebe are often currently cited as deserving writers who have so far been overlooked.
In 1964 John-Paul Sartre declined the award, saying that he no author should be seen as an 'institution', although he is still considered a Nobel Laureate. In 1958, Boris Pasternak felt unable to leave the Soviet Union to accept the award, fearing exile or reprisals from the authorities on his return; the Prize was eventually accepted by his son in 1989. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had the same fears in 1970 and only accepted the award when he was deported four years later.
The 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Chinese writer Mo Yan "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary", according to the Nobel Committee. Reaction to the win was mixed, with some commentators suggesting that a political desire to connect more with China had motivated the decision.
|Year||Winner||Country of Citizenship||Language of Writing|
|2010||Mario Vargas Llosa||Peru||Spanish|
|2008||Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio||France/Mauritius||French|
|2007||Doris Lessing||United Kingdom||English|
|2005||Harold Pinter||United Kingdom||English|
|2003||John Maxwell Coetzee||South Africa||English|
|2001||Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul||United Kingdom||English|
|1993||Toni Morrison||United States||English|
|1992||Derek Walcott||St Lucia||English|
|1991||Nadine Gordimer||South Africa||English|
|1989||Camilo José Cela||Spain||Spanish|
|1987||Joseph Brodsky||United States||English & Russian|
|1983||William Golding||United Kingdom||English|
|1982||Gabriel García Márquez||Colombia||Spanish|
|1981||Elias Canetti||United Kingdom||German|
|1980||Czeslaw Milosz||Poland & United States||Polish|
|1978||Isaac Bashevis Singer||United States||Yiddish|
|1976||Saul Bellow||United States||English|
|1974||Harry Martinson AND Eyvind Johnson||Sweden (both)||Swedish (both)|
|1972||Heinrich Böll||West Germany||German|
|1970||Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn||Soviet Union||Russian|
|1969||Samuel Beckett||Ireland||English & French|
|1967||Miguel Ángel Asturias||Guatemala||Spanish|
|1966||Shmuel Yosef Agnon AND Nelly Sachs||Israel Sweden||Hebrew German|
|1965||Mikhail Sholokov||Soviet Union||Russia|
|1962||John Steinbeck||United States||English|
|1958||Boris Pasternak||Soviet Union||Russian|
|1956||Juan Ramón Jiménez||Spain||Spanish|
|1954||Ernest Hemingway||United States||English|
|1953||Winston Churchill||United Kingdom||English|
|1950||Bertrand Russell||United Kingdom||English|
|1949||William Faulkner||United States||English|
|1948||T S Eliot||United Kingdom||English|
|1944||Johannes Vilhelm Jensen||Denmark||Danish|
|1940-1943||NO AWARD|| || |
|1939||Frans Eemil Sillanpää||Finland||Finnish|
|1938||Pearl Buck||United States||English|
|1937||Roger Martin du Gard||France||French|
|1936||Eugene O'Neill||United States||English|
|1935||NO AWARD|| || |
|1933||Ivan Bunin||Russia & France||Russian|
|1932||John Galsworthy||United Kingdom||English|
|1931||Erik Axel Karlfeldt||Sweden||Swedish|
|1930||Sinclair Lewis||United States||English|
|1925||George Bernard Shaw||United Kingdom||English|
|1923||William Butler Yeats||Ireland||English|
|1918||NO AWARD|| || |
|1917||Karl Adolph Gjellerup AND Henrik Pontoppidan||Denmark (both)||Danish|
|1916||Verner von Heidenstam||Sweden||Swedish|
|1914||NO AWARD|| || |
|1910||Paul von Heyse||Germany||German|
|1908||Rudolf Christoph Rucken||Germany||German|
|1907||Rudyard Kipling||United Kingdom||English|