Isn’t it Called the Nobel Prize for – Literature…?

The Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded today. There are a large number of arguably splendid candidates. Who will win? Likely none of them….

Nobel Prize Medal (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Nobel committee has chosen the 2015 Nobelist in Literature and their choice will have been announced by the time you read this. The list of candidates with credentials strong enough to be legitimate contenders. There are even those out there who spend time handicapping the field. First, the bad news: it seems highly unlikely that an American will get the award despite a strong contingent of worthy candidates including Joyce Carol Oates, John Ashberry, Don DeLillo, and my personal favorite, Richard Ford. (Odds makers exclude those whom the Nobel committee likely consider “regional” writers – worthy authors such as Cormac McCarthy or John Ehle.)

Even Bob Dylan is mentioned as a candidate. But that choice is by all accounts blowin’ in the wind. Or tangled up in blue. Or something.

Meanwhile, there are some heavy hitters in world literature who are probably going to whiff on this turn at the prize, too. You know the names: Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Peter Handke, Amos Oz, Karl Ove Knausgard, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and Tom Stoppard.  The major problem these authors have, it would seem, is that they’ve been perhaps too popular and successful. That seems to be a handicap to the Nobel committee. (One is reminded of the reluctance of the Academy to award Oscars to its biggest box office stars.)

So who will win? The leading contenders seem to be a Belarusian, a South Korean, a Kenyan, a Hungarian, and an Egyptian. It’s highly probable that you have never read any of them.

The Nobel committee seems to think that choosing a less well known writer will make audiences read that author. That’s a noble enough aim, I suppose, but I’m not sure that’s what the prize is for. I’ve always thought the Nobel was to honor a writer whose body of work has made a contribution to human culture. Being popular doesn’t preclude that, does it?  It shouldn’t, anyway.

So maybe I’m advocating giving the Nobel to J.K. Rowling? Well, no. But I am advocating that the Nobel committee choose its Literature winner based on the quality of his/her work – and that economic, political, or any other considerations not trump that criterion.


About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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