The World Map of Nobel Prize in Literature

History has been made today, as Bob Dylan has become the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is also the first American to win the award since 1993, when novelist Toni Morrison walked away with it. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said that Dylan won the award because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition”. It may seem like the rules have been somewhat bent for Dylan to win the award, but his lyrics are considered poems, and no one can deny that they are excellent works of literature. The award will be presented on December 10th, which is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the prize founder.

A little bit of Nobel history

The Noble Prize in Literature has been awarded every year since 1901, apart from 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943. It is awarded to the author that has produced outstanding work in the field of literature. It can be awarded to any individual, and it looks at the author’s work for his/her entire career, instead of awarding it based on one individual piece. Alfred Nobel established the Noble Prize in Literature in 1895. The winner receives a sum of money, a diploma bearing a citation, and a gold medal. The amount of money received differs from year to year. This is one of five Nobel Prizes that was founded then. The others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Peace Prize, Nobel Prize in Physics, and Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The decision on who receives the Noble Prize in Literature is decided by the Swedish Academy.

So, how are authors nominated? Well, they cannot nominate themselves, but they can be nominated by one of the following – the presidents of writers’ organisations, former Nobel literature laureates, professors of language and literature, members of literature societies, and academies, and members of the Swedish Academy. The committee will then draw up a shortlist of five names. This usually takes place in May. Then, in October, members of the Academy will place their vote for the person they think deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature. The author that has more than half of the votes will win.

Previous Winners

We recently conducted some research to determine where the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature originate. If you look at the map, you will be able to get a good understanding of the countries that have had the greatest success. France tops the list, followed by Germany, United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Italy. However, last year’s winner did not come from this elite list. Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. Born in the Ukraine, Svetlana is an investigative journalist and a fiction prose writer.

But, what about famous poets that have won the Nobel Prize in Literature? Let’s take a look at some after the map…

The Neustadt Prize

But wait! There’s a bonus feature in our map. The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is a biennial award for literature held by the University of Oklahoma, since 1970. You can switch our map with the 2 buttons below, to compare the recipients of both distinctions. You will see some coincidences like Colombian Gabriel García Márquez or Swedish Tomas Tranströmer, but the differences are far more apparent. Blue markers are for the Nobel, green for the Neustadt.

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…Let’s go back to highlight some previous winners:

• Pablo Neruda (born in Chile) – Winner of the award in 1971, the Swedish Academy said that Pablo Neruda’s poetry brings alive a continent’s dreams and destiny.

• William Butler Yeats (born in Ireland) – Winner of the award in 1923, the motivation for awarding the prize to William Butler Yeats was because his poetry gave “expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

• Thomas Transtromer (born in Sweden) – The Swedish Academy said that Tomas Transtromer gave us fresh access to reality with his translucent and condensed images, which is why he won the award in 2011.

• Juan Ramon Jimenez (born in Spain) – Juan Ramon Jimenez won the award in 1956, as the Swedish Academy deemed his lyrical poetry to be an example of artistical purity and high spirit.

• Herta Muller (born in Romania) –For stunningly depicting the landscape of the dispossessed, Herta Muller was credited with the award in 1953.

• Sully Prudhomme (born in France) – Winner of the first ever Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901, Sully Prudhomme won the award due to his masterful poetry, which feature a rare combination of qualities of both intelligence and heart.

• Rabindranath Tagore (born in India) – Credited with reshaping Bengali literature, it is of little surprise that Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European to win the award in 1913.

• T.S. Eliot (born in the United States) – One of the major poets of the twentieth century, T. S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for his “outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.”

But, what about those who have been snubbed? There are many great writers and poets who critics think should have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but missed out. One example is Robert Frost. Born in the United States, Frost is highly regarded for his command of American colloquial speech and realistic depictions of rural life. Many think he should have beat fellow American John Steinbeck to the prize in 1962. Why didn’t he? We can only speculate. Many think that he was perhaps too well known.

James Joyce is another poet that many feel should have won the award. Originating in Ireland, Joyce produced some of the greatest writing of the 20th century, pioneering the modernist movement in literature. The Swedish Academy cannot be blamed for his exclusion, as Joyce was never even nominated! Future winners such as Saul Bellow and Samuel Beckett cite Joyce as a major influence, making his lack of an award even more puzzling.

We then have Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian poet who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times. Many believe his exclusion was politically motivated, with a lot of speculation that Borges was snubbed because he supported Augusto Pinochet and other right-wing military dictators. Other noticeable poets that haven’t won the award include Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, and Chinua Achebe.

Of course, there is only one award per year, and plenty of incredible writers to choose from – not just poets. Popular names that missed out this year include Joyce Carol Oates, Ismail Kadare, Javier Maria, Don DeLillo, Ko Un, Jon Fosse, Philip Roth, Adonis, Haruki Muakami, and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. But, here at My Poetic Side, we are sure this will not be the last time they are in the running.


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