Nobel Prizes for Literature, 1901-2012

Other Nobel Prizes : Physics - Chemistry - Medicine - Peace - Economics

Awarded annually to a person who "shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." Pretty vague if you ask me and certainly this prize has produced the most subjective choices to be made by the Swedish Academy.

The eighteen lifelong members of this academy are extremely secretive about the nominations and final selections. Even the date for the announcement of the recipient isn't known until two days before the event.

Literature in the context of the Nobel Prize, I believe, should be thought of as something purely cultural, to which shifting national borders are nothing but a backdrop for the narrative. Often even cultural borders are irrelevant since many of these writers' works are of ecumenical significance. This is why I decided to list the language they wrote in rather than the recipients' nationality. Several wrote in more than one language and/or translated their own works. Some of them are exiles or emigrés too so the matter of nationality is extra fuzzy there and in some cases only of statistical value.

For the record though, writers who were nationals of the following countries at the time of the award have received it (counting shared awards as one each): France (12), Germany (8), Norway (3), Spain (5), Poland (4), Italy (6), U.K. (11), Sweden (7), Belgium, India, Denmark (3), Switzerland (2), Ireland (3), United States (11), Finland, Chile (2), Iceland, Soviet Union (2), Yugoslavia, Greece (2), Israel, Guatemala, Japan (2), Australia, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Nigeria, Egypt, Mexico, South Africa (2), St. Lucia, Portugal, China (2), Hungary, Austria, Turkey, Peru.

Other Nobel trivia:

  • The prize has never been awarded to the same person twice.
  • Twice (1958, 1964) the recipient declined to accept it.
  • Only eleven women have been awarded this prize, and only five since 1966.
  • Prizewinners who wrote in English come from seven different countries. This includes the three Irish prizewinners.
  • Prizewinners who wrote in Spanish come from six different countries.
  • No Canadian writer has ever won the Nobel Prize but one winner was born in Canada.
  • Seven years saw no winner at all but the prize has been awarded every year since 1944.
  • The prize has never been won by an author writing in Dutch or Flemish.
  • There are only four years in which the prize was shared (1904, 1917, 1966, 1974). This is the lowest occurrence of shared prizes in any Nobel Prize category.
  • Some of the giants who were not awarded the Nobel Prize: Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Karel Capek... it's a long list.

In most cases where a choice had to be made the most common variant of the authors' names has been used, except for nodes which already had content and were somewhat inaccurate but sufficiently recognisable. I went on a nodeshelling spree while compiling the list--all links point to a node. Knighthoods, titles of nobility and the likes have not been taken into account.

Bold names link to nodes with (in my editorial opinion) adequate content. Let this not stop you if you have cool stuff to add.
Italicised names point to nodes that have some content but in which I think some basics are still missing.
Plain names have not yet been noded. Most of them I've nodeshelled myself.
Please let me (or an editor) know when you node one of these writers and I'll update the list.
Stylesheet problems may cause everything to appear bold. Looking into a solution.

1901 Sully Prudhomme (French)
1902 Theodor Mommsen (German)
1903 Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Norwegian)
1904 Frédéric Mistral (French) and José Echegaray (Spanish)
1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz (Polish)
1906 Giosuè Carducci (Italian)
1907 Rudyard Kipling (English)
1908 Rudolf Eucken (German)
1909 Selma Lagerlöf (Swedish)
1910 Paul Heyse (German)
1911 Maurice Maeterlinck (French)
1912 Gerhart Hauptmann (German)
1913 Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali, English)
1914 -not awarded-
1915 Romain Rolland (French)
1916 Verner von Heidenstam (Swedish)
1917 Karl Gjellerup (Danish) and Henrik Pontoppidan (Danish)
1918 -not awarded-
1919 Carl Spitteler (German)
1920 Knut Hamsun (Norwegian)
1921 Anatole France (French)
1922 Jacinto Benavente (Spanish)
1923 William Butler Yeats (English)
1924 Wladyslaw Reymont (Polish)
1925 George Bernard Shaw (English)
1926 Grazia Deledda (Italian)
1927 Henri Bergson (French)
1928 Sigrid Undset (Norwegian)
1929 Thomas Mann (German)
1930 Sinclair Lewis (English)
1931 Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Swedish)
1932 John Galsworthy (English)
1933 Ivan Bunin (Russian)
1934 Luigi Pirandello (Italian)
1935 -not awarded-
1936 Eugene O'Neill (English)
1937 Roger Martin du Gard (French)
1938 Pearl S. Buck (English)
1939 Frans Eemil Sillanpaa (Finnish)
1940 -not awarded-
1941 -not awarded-
1942 -not awarded-
1943 -not awarded-
1944 Johannes V. Jensen (Danish)
1945 Gabriela Mistral (Spanish)
1946 Hermann Hesse (German)
1947 André Gide (French)
1948 T.S. Eliot (English)
1949 William Faulkner (English)
1950 Bertrand Russell (English)
1951 Pär Lagerkvist (Swedish)
1952 Francois Mauriac (French)
1953 Winston Churchill (English)
1954 Ernest Hemingway (English)
1955 Halldór Laxness (Icelandic)
1956 Juan Ramón Jiménez (Spanish)
1957 Albert Camus (French)
1958 -declined by recipient-
Boris Pasternak initially accepted but the Soviet government made him decline it.
1959 Salvatore Quasimodo (Italian)
1960 Saint-John Perse (French)
1961 Ivo Andric (Croatian, Serbian)
1962 John Steinbeck (English)
1963 George Seferis (Greek)
1964 -declined by recipient-
Jean-Paul Sartre had some issues with the prize and decided that he didn't want it. It has been reported that he decided that he was existentially compatible with the prize in 1975, at which time the Committee nicely told him to get lost.
1965 Mikhail Sholokhov (Russian)
1966 Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Hebrew) and Nelly Sachs (Swedish)
1967 Miguel Angel Asturias (Spanish)
1968 Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese)
1969 Samuel Beckett (English, French)
1970 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Russian)
1971 Pablo Neruda (Spanish)
1972 Heinrich Böll (German)
1973 Patrick White (English)
1974 Eyvind Johnson (Swedish) and Harry Martinson (Swedish)
1975 Eugenio Montale (Italian)
1976 Saul Bellow (English)
1977 Vicente Aleixandre (Spanish)
1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish)
1979 Odysseus Elytis (Greek)
1980 Czeslaw Milosz (Polish)
1981 Elias Canetti (German)
1982 Gabriel García Márquez (Spanish)
1983 William Golding (English)
1984 Jaroslav Siefert (Czech)
1985 Claude Simon (French)
1986 Wole Soyinka (English)
1987 Joseph Brodsky (English)
1988 Naguib Mahfouz (Arabic)
1989 Camilo José Cela (Spanish)
1990 Octavio Paz (Spanish)
1991 Nadine Gordimer (English)
1992 Derek Walcott (English)
1993 Toni Morrison (English)
1994 Kenzaburo Oe (Japanese)
1995 Seamus Heaney (English)
1996 Wislawa Szymborska (Polish)
1997 Dario Fo (Italian)
1998 Jose Saramago (Portuguese)
1999 Günter Grass (German)
2000 Gao Xingjian (Mandarin, French)
2001 V. S. Naipaul (English)
2002 Imre Kertesz (Hungarian)
2003 J. M. Coetzee (English)
2004 Elfriede Jelinek (German)
2005 Harold Pinter (English)
2006 Orhan Pamuk (Turkish)
2007 Doris Lessing (English)
2008 Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (French)
2009 Herta Müller (German)
2010 Mario Vargas Llosa (Spanish)
2010 Tomas Transtromer (Swedish)
2012 Mo Yan (Mandarin)

Note to Jean-Paul Sartre, declining the prize in 1964:

Last week the auto-biography of Lars Gyllensten - long time member of the Nobel Prize committee - was published and it revealed an interesting twist in this story. It turned out that the French philosopher in 1975 had written a letter to the Nobel Prize committee, saying that he had changed his mind about the prize, at least when it came to the money (approx $1M). Would it be possible to receive the prize, or the money, after 11 years ?

The answer was "No".

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