Nobel Prize Winners discussion

Administration and Introductions > How is the Nobel prize for literature selected?

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message 1: by Cl. (new)

Cl. | 44 comments I've been curious for some time how the Nobel prize is awarded. Something which has surprised me is the number of poets who have won.

Does anyone know how it is determined?

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

If you go on the link I have provided to the official Nobel website, there is an article on the selection of Nobel winners accessible from there.

message 3: by Cl. (new)

Cl. | 44 comments Hi. Yes, I read that link. In fact, I think there are a couple of essays re: selection on the Nobel site. But what I'm wondering, is who gets the invites to nominate?

There's the Swedish academy, previous Nobel prize winners, and those "who are qualified to nominate for the Nobel Prize in Literature" + "Other persons who are qualified to nominate but who have not received invitations may also submit nominations".

I think I read somewhere that the invitees are the chairs of literature at various universities.

'Still leaves me puzzled how so many poets have won, unless poetry is considered an "ideal" (one of the criteria Nobel set out).

It would be so interesting to know someone who receives the invites--but I imagine the whole process is shrouded in secrecy. I also wonder if they have to sift through thousands of nominations.

In reading through the essay by Kjell Espmark, I understand the criteria has been amended over the history of the prize; but it still seems West European culturally centred--or those with West European connections, and readership in English would seem to be a factor.

I'm glad this prize exists, as it has taken me on some interesting journeys. But the selection process still feels quite mysterious to me. :)

message 5: by Dora (new)

Dora (pandorabooks) | 2 comments One more issue to ponder over the nomination process of Nobel Prize:language. As far as I know, if your book is written in Chinese, the most important thing to consider for a nomination is not whether the book is well-written, but whether it is well-translated. It may be the case of Mo Yan's nomination.

message 6: by Bjorn (new)

Bjorn | 29 comments Actually, at least one member of the Academy speaks fluent Chinese. They also hire trusted translators to translate potential candidates.

See Academy member Per Wästberg's letter here.

We master thirteen languages in the Academy but when we suspect a genius hidden in an unknown language we call on translators and oath-sworn experts to give us generous samples of that writer.

message 7: by Dora (new)

Dora (pandorabooks) | 2 comments Yes,it's good to know. Still...

One committee member, Göran Malmqvist, reads Chinese, but the others rely on translations.

message 8: by Bjorn (new)

Bjorn | 29 comments True. But that is, to varying degrees, true for any non-Swedish writers.

message 9: by Bjorn (new)

Bjorn | 29 comments Interesting article by Academy member Per Wästberg here. Sounds like they're getting ready to throw some wood on the fire. We'll see next week if it's all just bluster, I guess.

Translation of choice bits:

When I was elected to the Academy 18 years ago I thought they scoured the world with GPS to spread the graces around and find hidden treasures of language. It wasn't like that. Just like we rewarded the in my opinion unsurpassable novelist José Saramago we could have - I realised - given the prize to Portugal three years in a row, if there'd been a reason. (...) Nation, gender, religion means nothing. Geography isn't our topic.

There are a lot of problems. Our western perspective can't be ignored, we are bound to our reading experience, our education, certain estetic categories. There are cultural spheres we struggle to judge correctly, even if we occasionally take an author's influence within its own context into account, as with Naguib Mahfouz. Fiction is full of different grammars, metaphors, structures. The right to be yourself, to glorify subjective expression, radically reinterpreting traditions by your own experience - that's a latter-day western idea. Experiencing great writing requires homework and work. (...)

The Academy's first, reluctant Nobel committee (...) didn't make any suggestions of their own and catastrophically followed the French Academy's nomination of Sully Prudhomme. They didn't dare think of subversives like Tolstoy and Ibsen. When Nathan Söderblom suggested Strindberg in 1901 he was met with silence. It's still 1901 in many parts of the world.

We seek authors who have the power to jerk people from their café chair dormancy. We don't give Nobel prizes in exotism, but don't mind those who reveal unknown domains and make us cheer and feel giddy. We cross the world looking for untouched territories. We have to pass areas of infertile turbulence to enter a zone not yet catalogued. We seek passages between different kinds of identity and writing. We revise mental maps. There are no fixed norms, no given catechism. The words in Nobel's will - ideal direction, humanity's best et cetera - mean little to us. Though in some recent cases we have emphasized it: Solzhenitsyn, Gordimer. We find that even the blackest poets - Beckett, Falkner - contribute more to tolerance and insight than superficial idealists...

The 1930s were rock bottom. Playwrights Pirandello and O'Neill were the only important ones. (...) People seriously suggested Margaret Mitchell for Gone With The Wind. When Thomas Mann nominated Hesse in 1931 he was dismissed as an "ethical anarchist" (...) Not until Anders Österling took over after the war did the Nobel ascend to its current level. Here came the pioneers. Paul Valéry, who unfortunately died at the last minute. Then: Hesse, Gide, Eliot, Faulkner, the brave innovators. In his speech to Eliot, Österling lamented that it was too late to give it to Joyce (who, like Woolf, had never been nominated from outside). (...)

From 1978, you can make out a new brand of politics, one that noticed authors outside the limelight of commerce (...) Singer, Canetti, Elytis, Szymborska. (...) Lessing came too late, while they emphasized how the political analysis, brave stance and vibrant portrayal of different lives under apartheid of her friend Nadine Gordimer in 1991 had reached a world of readers and become a blessing of all mankind.


People complain of the Academy's eurocentrism. It was more true then than now. (...) The prize is also accused of being political. What a tiresome cliché! When we gave it to Pinter we were accused of sympathizing with the left, when we gave it to Llosa we had shifted to the right. We differentiate between political intent and political effect. Can an author get the prize despite their political opinion? Of course! Can they get it because of it? Never! (...) That the Academy is completely sovereign, independent of all instances, with its own economy and complete freedom of movement is something many governments and members of the press still don't understand. Authors who were dissidents within their communities - Seifert, Milos, Brodsky - were awarded for their artistic merit but also, in the spirit of Nobel, for their uncompromising integrity and struggle for human values.


Tiny Sweden, at the edge of the world, has the pleasure of stepping forward once a year to defend a choice that is often seen as odd by the celebrity-focused cultural editors of the world, or in other words, calls attention to their ignorance. The day the prize doesn't raise objections, it will have become irrelevant.

message 10: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey (korrick) Bjorn wrote: "Interesting article by Academy member Per Wästberg here. Sounds like they're getting ready to throw some wood on the fire. We'll see next week if it's all just bluster, I guess.

Translation of cho..."

This has some hopeful sounding bits, but all in all it's still very cagey and has too much aspirations for the "apolitical". We'll just have to wait and see.

message 11: by Bjorn (last edited Oct 04, 2015 11:23PM) (new)

Bjorn | 29 comments Aubrey wrote: "This has some hopeful sounding bits, but all in all it's still very cagey and has too much aspirations for the "apolitical"."

I don't know, I don't really mind the prize being apolitical as long as it's not unpolitical - ie doesn't exclude authors for being too "controversial", as journalists put it these days, but acknowledges that literature is inherently political. He does single out some heavily politicized winners of the past, including Pamuk, Solzhenitsyn and Gao (I didn't translate all of it because it's a looong article and some of it just repeats things everyone should already know) in addition to his remarks about Gordimer and about it still being "1901 in many parts of the world". Wästberg's a wily old fox, but based on this alone, I wouldn't be surprised if they expect this year's choice to cause a bigger splash than Modiano did.

Or maybe they'll just give it to Pynchon and laugh their asses off while US media tries to get him to play along with the PR circus.

message 12: by Jibran (new)

Jibran (marbles5) | 13 comments Bjorn wrote: "Or maybe they'll just give it to Pynchon and laugh their asses off while US media tries to get him to play along with the PR circus. "

Ha! That'd be fun.

message 13: by Travelin (new)

Travelin | 1 comments A new group has been created to Strip Gide's Nobel:

message 14: by Czarny (new)

Czarny Pies | 8 comments I recently bought a set of published in France that featured a book for ever Nobel prize winner for the first sixty years ending in 1962. A member of the Nobel committee wrote an introduction for every year explaining which nominations had been considered and why the winner was chosen. We can forgive the Nobel Committee for not having been aware of a great writer like Kafka whose books were published primarily posthumously but the list of rejected nominees shows that the committee has had consistently horrible judgement. Amongst those considered but rejected in the first 60 years were Strindberg, Tolstoy, Paul Valery, Tchekov, Thomas Hardy and Maxim Gorky. These are truly dreadful omissions.

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I don’t know about the other writers, but the Nobel Committee didn’t reject Tolstoi, Tolstoi wrote to them asking them not to consider him for the prize.

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