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Useful Notes / Nobel Prize in Literature

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The Nobel Prize in Literature is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrial tycoon Alfred Nobel in 1895. It has been awarded annually since 1901 (minus a few years when it was not awarded).

It is considered the world’s most reputable prize for literature — and by far the most lucrative, with the prize money amounting to circa US$ 1 million or more.note  This is owed to Nobel’s intention that the prize should allow laureates to continue their work unaffected from any further financial concerns.

The prize is awarded by the Swedish Academy. Nomination of candidates can only made on request, of which there are a few thousand each year. The decision-making process takes up more than nine months, from the nomination deadline on January 31 to the announcement of the winner in early October. The Nobel Prize Award Ceremonynote  each year takes place on December 10 (the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death) in Stockholm. The prize is presented by the King of Sweden.

The prize is awarded to authors who, in the judgement of the Academy and according to the words of Alfred Nobel, has produced "in the field of literature, the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". "Work" here is referring to the candidate's work as a whole, not a specific work, although specific works may be cited as particularly notable by the Academy. Any category of writer is eligible for the prize – poets, novelists, playwrights or authors of short stories as much as essayists, philosophers, historians, translators or orators. As with the other Nobel Prizes, the prize can be split between up to three recipients, though it rarely happens (four times so far). Also, the Academy doesn’t have to award the Prize; it was not awarded seven times during World War I and World War II.

Over the years, Nobel’s phrase “in an ideal direction” has been the subject of varying interpretations. In the beginning, the condition was interpreted rather narrow and accordingly, famous writers who did not display enough “idealism” in their writings were not considered for the prize. Over time, the phrase has come to be interpreted more liberally, though expressing a commitment to causes like human rights is still considered helpful to get the prize.

Moreover, as the Nobel is awarded only once a year, there is a certain competition. Since the prize is mostly given to authors who already had a veritable writing career, an author that just dies too young may never have the chance to win it, regardless of merit.note 

All these factors have resulted in very renowned and/or well-known authors not getting the prize, while other, more obscure or less influential writers did get it. A few of the writers that, for one reason or another, did famously not get it are Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Henry James, Émile Zola, Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy, Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg, Jorge Luis Borges, Chinua Achebe, Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce. Two authors, Jean-Paul Sartre and Boris Pasternak, were awarded the Prize, but declined it.note 

Inevitably, the annual award of the Nobel Prize for Literature is more often than not surrounded by controversy. Whether rightly or wrongly, the award is often interpreted as a political statement (even if less so than the Nobel Peace Prize). However, as the nominations, shortlists and deliberations of the Academy are confidential for 50 years, any assertions why an author got or didn't get the prize are, in fact, speculative.

The most frequent general criticisms leveled at the Academy's choices are Eurocentrism; a bias in favor of Sweden (Swedes have received more prizes than all of Asia or Latin America — in 1974 the Swedish Academy famously awarded its own members, Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, the prize as a sort of lifetime achievement award); and bias in favor of men: as of 2019, there have been 116 Nobel Prize winners, of whom only 15 were women.

Official website here.

Winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature:

  • 1901 Sully Prudhomme (poet, essayist)
  • 1902 Theodor Mommsen (historian) – With special mention of The History of Rome
  • 1903 Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (poet, novelist, playwright)
  • 1904 Frédéric Mistral (poet, philologist) and José Echegaray (playwright)
  • 1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz (novelist)
  • 1906 Giosuè Carducci (poet)
  • 1907 Rudyard Kipling (novelist, poet, short story author)
  • 1908 Rudolf Christoph Eucken (philosopher)
  • 1909 Selma Lagerlöf (novelist, short story author)
  • 1910 Paul von Heyse (poet, playwright, novelist, short story author)
  • 1911 Maurice Maeterlinck (playwright, poet, essayist)
  • 1912 Gerhart Hauptmann (playwright, novelist)
  • 1913 Rabindranath Tagore (poet, novelist, playwright, short story author)
  • 1914 Not awarded
  • 1915 Romain Rolland (novelist)
  • 1916 Verner von Heidenstam (poet, novelist)
  • 1917 Karl Adolph Gjellerup (poet) and Henrik Pontoppidan (novelist)
  • 1918 Not awarded
  • 1919 Carl Spitteler (poet) – With special mention of The Olympian Spring
  • 1920 Knut Hamsun (novelist) – With special mention of Growth of the Soil
  • 1921 Anatole France (novelist, poet)
  • 1922 Jacinto Benavente (playwright)
  • 1923 William Butler Yeats (poet)
  • 1924 Władysław Reymont (novelist) - With special mention of The Peasants
  • 1925 George Bernard Shaw (playwright, literary critic)
  • 1926 Grazia Deledda (poet, novelist)
  • 1927 Henri Bergson (philosopher)
  • 1928 Sigrid Undset (novelist)
  • 1929 Thomas Mann (novelist, short story author, essayist) - With special mention of Buddenbrooks
  • 1930 Sinclair Lewis (novelist, playwright, short story author)
  • 1931 Erik Axel Karlfeldt (poet)
  • 1932 John Galsworthy (novelist) – With special mention of The Forsyte Saga
  • 1933 Ivan Bunin (novelist, poet, short story author)
  • 1934 Luigi Pirandello (playwright, novelist, short story author)
  • 1935 Not awarded
  • 1936 Eugene O'Neill (playwright)
  • 1937 Roger Martin du Gard (novelist) – With special mention of Les Thibault
  • 1938 Pearl S. Buck (novelist, biographer)
  • 1939 Frans Eemil Sillanpää (novelist)
  • 1940 Not awarded
  • 1941 Not awarded
  • 1942 Not awarded
  • 1943 Not awarded
  • 1944 Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (poet)
  • 1945 Gabriela Mistral (poet)
  • 1946 Hermann Hesse (novelist, poet)
  • 1947 André Gide (novelist, essayist)
  • 1948 T. S. Eliot (poet)
  • 1949 William Faulkner (novelist, short story author)
  • 1950 Bertrand Russell (philosopher)
  • 1951 Pär Lagerkvist (poet, novelist, playwright, short story author)
  • 1952 François Mauriac (novelist, short story author)
  • 1953 Winston Churchill (historian, essayist, memoirist, orator)
  • 1954 Ernest Hemingway (novelist, short story author, screenwriter) – With special mention of The Old Man and the Sea
  • 1955 Halldór Laxness (novelist, poet, playwright, short story author)
  • 1956 Juan Ramón Jiménez (poet)
  • 1957 Albert Camus (philosopher, essayist, novelist, playwright, short story author)
  • 1958 Boris Pasternak (poet, novelist, translator) - declined
  • 1959 Salvatore Quasimodo (poet)
  • 1960 Saint-John Perse (poet)
  • 1961 Ivo Andrić (novelist, short story author)
  • 1962 John Steinbeck (novelist, short story author, screenwriter)
  • 1963 Giorgos Seferis (poet)
  • 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, literary critic) — declined
  • 1965 Mikhail Sholokhov (novelist) - With special mention of And Quiet Flows the Don
  • 1966 Shmuel Yosef (novelist, short story author) and Nelly Sachs (poet, playwright)
  • 1967 Miguel Ángel Asturias (novelist, poet)
  • 1968 Kawabata Yasunari (novelist, short story author)
  • 1969 Samuel Beckett (novelist, playwright)
  • 1970 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (novelist)
  • 1971 Pablo Neruda (poet)
  • 1972 Heinrich Böll (novelist, short story author)
  • 1973 Patrick White (novelist, playwright, short story author)
  • 1974 Eyvind Johnson (novelist) and Harry Martinson (poet, novelist, playwright)
  • 1975 Eugenio Montale (poet)
  • 1976 Saul Bellow (novelist, short story author)
  • 1977 Vicente Aleixandre (poet)
  • 1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer (novelist, short story author, memoirist)
  • 1979 Odysseas Elytis (poet)
  • 1980 Czesław Miłosz (poet, essayist)
  • 1981 Elias Canetti (novelist, playwright, essayist, memoirist)
  • 1982 Gabriel García Márquez (novelist, short story author, screenwriter)
  • 1983 William Golding (novelist, poet, playwright)
  • 1984 Jaroslav Seifert (poet)
  • 1985 Claude Simon (novelist)
  • 1986 Wole Soyinka (novelist, poet)
  • 1987 Joseph Brodsky (poet)
  • 1988 Naguib Mahfouz (novelist)
  • 1989 Camilo José Cela (novelist, short story author)
  • 1990 Octavio Paz (poet, essayist)
  • 1991 Nadine Gordimer (novelist, short story author, essayist)
  • 1992 Derek Walcott (poet)
  • 1993 Toni Morrison (novelist)
  • 1994 Kenzaburō Ōe (novelist, short story author)
  • 1995 Seamus Heaney (poet)
  • 1996 Wisława Szymborska (poet)
  • 1997 Dario Fo (playwright)
  • 1998 José Saramago (novelist, playwright, poet)
  • 1999 Günter Grass (novelist, playwright, poet)
  • 2000 Gao Xingjian (novelist, playwright, literary critic)
  • 2001 V. S. Naipaul (novelist, essayist)
  • 2002 Imre Kertész (novelist)
  • 2003 J. M. Coetzee (novelist, essayist, translator)
  • 2004 Elfriede Jelinek (novelist, playwright)
  • 2005 Harold Pinter (playwright)
  • 2006 Orhan Pamuk (novelist, screenwriter, essayist)
  • 2007 Doris Lessing (novelist, playwright, poet, short story author, memoirist)
  • 2008 J. M. G. Le Clézio (novelist, short story author, essayist, translator)
  • 2009 Herta Müller (novelist, poet)
  • 2010 Mario Vargas Llosa (novelist)
  • 2011 Tomas Tranströmer (poet, translator)
  • 2012 Mo Yan (novelist)
  • 2013 Alice Munro (short story author)
  • 2014 Patrick Modiano (novelist)
  • 2015 Svetlana Alexievich (essayist, documentary novelist)
  • 2016 Bob Dylan (songwriter)
  • 2017 Kazuo Ishiguro (novelist)
  • 2018 Olga Tokarczuk (novelist, poet; awarded in 2019)
  • 2019 Peter Handke (novelist, playwright, poet)
  • 2020 Louise Glück (poet)
  • 2021 Abdulrazak Gurnah (novelist)
  • 2022 Annie Ernaux (autobiographer/memoirist)