Sunday, December 8, 2013

BW50: Nobel Prize for literature challenge

Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Peace Prize

In 2010, I took a Nobel Literature class and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it was a lot of work, I read several books that probably normally would never have considered reading including Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea, Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, Gabriel Garcia 
Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude,and Kenzaburo Oe's The Silent Cry.  After reading these books, it made me want to read more selections from the literature prize list. Since then, I've read one or two authors from the list each year.

The history behind the Nobel Prize for literature is quite interesting and well worth perusing when you have the time.  Alfred Nobel was Swedish and when he died, he requested the bulk of his fortune be used to establish a prize which would be divided in 5 equal parts. 

Excerpt from his will:

"The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows:

one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics;
one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement;
one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine;
one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction;
and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not."

He also specified who would be responsible for selecting the noble laureates and for literature, the responsibility was given to the Swedish Academy.  A big question has always been how do you get nominated.   Well, an author cannot nominate himself.   He must be nominated by what the Academy considers a qualified person.  Who is qualified?   

  • members of the Swedish Academy and of other academies, institutions and societies similar to it in membership and aims;
  • professors of literary and linguistic disciplines at universities and university colleges;
  • former Nobel Laureates in Literature;
  • presidents of authors’ organisations which are representative of the literary activities of their respective countries.
Then the academy gleans through the candidates, eventually narrows down the nominations to a select few, reads their works and decides whom will win the prize.   The members of the Academy don't always agree and it seems there have been some controversial and what some consider politically motivated awards handed out to writers.  Plus there has been controversy regarding some of the authors who haven't won, whom some considered better qualified.  And then you have some authors who didn't want to accept the prize because they considered it the death of their career.

And you have a group of 18 people who are interpreting Nobel's words "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."   It depends entirely on their definition of ideal.   The members of the academy are a diverse group of linguists, literary scholars and historians.

My main thought while reading all this was where did the money come from. Was Alfred Nobel independently wealthy, did he inherit the money himself, where did all this money come from that is being used to fund the prize?   Long story short, in 1867 he invented Dynamite.  He had factories and laboratories in over 90 places in 20 different countries.  He had initially created dynamite to be used for mining and because it ended up being used for purposes he never intended, he created the Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize Winners in Literature 

Which Nobel prize winners have you read?

If you haven't yet, that's okay. I'll be adding Nobel Prize for Literature as one of the main mini challenges for 2014.   

Link to your reviews:    Please link to your specific book review post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, tell us about the books you are reading in the comment section of this post.


  1. What I want to know is if you put in all those links yourself and how long it took you! That's a long list! I've only read 34 on the list.

    1. Fortunately Nobel site had a list I could copy and paste. Thank goodness!

  2. I've read a handful on the list, and they seem so sad! No hope in life and all that. Do you know if any Christians have won?

    My link is definitely Christian: Clear Winter Nights is an unusual novel with a theme of ministering to doubting Christians. Highly recommended.