Explainer: The lit list: Nobel Prize winners
The Nobel Prize in literature is regarded by many as the highest honor a writer can receive. The award, presented by the Swedish Academy, is given to a writer based on his or her entire body of work, and the prize money amounts to about $1.5 million. Check out some of the authors and poets who have won since 1988, and get to know the books that are considered some of the most important in the literary world.
Tomas Transtromer (2011)
- "Windows and Stones"
- "The Great Enigma"
Long a favorite to win the award, poet Transtromer is considered one of the most important Scandinavian writers since World War II. His surrealistic works about the mysteries of the human mind have been translated into more than 50 languages and influenced poets around the globe. The Swedish Academy said it recognized him "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."
Mario Vargas Llosa (2010)
- "The Time of the Hero"
- "The Green House"
- "Conversation in the Cathedral"
Novelist, essayist and politician, Vargas Llosa is arguably Latin America’s most influential writer. He has written humor, mysteries, historical novels and political thrillers as well as literary criticism. The Swedish Academy cited him "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat."
Herta Mueller (2009)
- "Oppressive Tango"
- "The Passport"
Herta Mueller is the 12th woman to win the prize. Most of her work is in German, but some have been translated into English French and Spanish. "I think that there is an incredible force in what she writes, she has a very, very unique style," said Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (2008)
- "The Deposition"
- "Beloved Earth"
Le Clezio has written on several themes incuding insanity, childhood and traveling. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for being an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."
Doris Lessing (2007)
Country: United Kingdom
- "The Grass is Singing"
- "The Golden Notebook"
- "The Good Terrorist"
At 87, Lessing was the oldest person to be bestowed the literature prize, as well as the 11th woman to win. The Swedish Academy praised her as the "epicist of the female experience."
Orhan Pamuk (2006)
- "My Name is Red"
- "Istanbul: Memories of a City"
Pamuk was the first Turkish person to receive the prize. The Academy cited Pamuk as one "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
Harold Pinter (2005)
Country: United Kingdom
- "The Dumb Waiter"
- "The Caretaker"
- "The New World Order"
A playwright, screenwriter, actor, director, poet and activist, Pinter was cited by the Academy as one who "forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."
Elfriede Jelinek (2004)
- "We are Decoys, Baby!"
- "Wonderful, Wonderful Times"
- "The Piano Teacher"
A feminist playwright and novelist whose work was often highly controversial, Jelinek was awarded the prize for her ability to "reveal the absurdity of society's cliches and their subjugating power" with "linguistic zeal."
John M. Coetzee (2003)
Country: South Africa
- "Waiting for the Barbarians"
- "Life and Times of Michael K"
Coetzee was the first author to win the Book Prize twice. Upon winning the Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy cited Coetzee as one "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."
Imre Kertesz (2002)
- "Kaddish for a Child Not Born"
Kertesz was a Holocaust concentration camp survivor, and his experiences were the basis for much of his work. He received the Nobel Prize "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
V.S. Naipaul (2001)
Country: United Kingdom (born in Trinidad)
- "In a Free State"
- "The Middle Passage"
- "A Million Mutinies Now"
- "The Enigma of Arrival"
Naipaul's work, often centered on Third World narratives, is known for its rejection of victimhood. The Academy noted that Naipaul created works "that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."
Gao Xingjian (2000)
Country: France (born in China)
- "Soul Mountain"
- "One Man's Bible"
Xingjian, a playright and novelist, pioneered absurdist drama in China. The Academy cited Xingjian's "bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which have opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama."
Guenter Grass (1999)
- "The Tin Drum"
- "Cat and Mouse"
- "Dog Years"
A poet, novelist and playwright, Grass's work was a literary representation of the German experience during the Nazi era. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his "frolicsome black fables that portray the forgotten face of history."
Jose Saramago (1998)
- "Baltasar and Blimunda"
- "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ"
Much of Saramago's writing was controversial, presenting the perspective of insurgents from historic events. The Academy cited his "parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony."
Dario Fo (1997)
- "Archangels Don't Play Pinball"
- "Mistero Buffo"
Fo's satire has criticized the Catholic policy on abortion and political corruption. The Academy praised him as one "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."
Wislawa Szymborska (1996)
- "Non-required Reading"
- "A Large Number"
- "Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997"
Szymborska's poetry has been translated to Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese, in addition to several European languages. The Academy awarded her "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light."
Seamus Heaney (1995)
- "Death of a Naturalist"
- "The Cure at Troy"
Much of Heaney's poetry focused on his analysis of the violence in Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
Kenzaburo Oe (1994)
- "Okinawa Notes"
- "Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids"
- "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness"
Oe created works that often focused on political issues such as nuclear weapons. The Academy cited him as a writer "who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."
Toni Morrison (1993)
Country: United States
- "The Bluest Eye"
Morrison wrote novels that brought multi-faceted, richly-developed black characters to the forefront of literature. The Academy cited that she, by "visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."
Derek Walcott (1992)
Country: St. Lucia
- "Sea Grapes"
- "Ti-Jean and his Brothers"
Walcott published more than 20 plays, his stories based on West Indian identity and the effects of colonial rule. He was praised for his "great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment."
Nadine Gordimer (1991)
Country: South Africa
- "The Conservationist"
- "Burger's Daughter"
- "July's People"
Gordimer's work dealt with racial issues, and bemoaned the immorality of South African apartheid. The Academy praised her "magnificent epic writing" as being "of very great benefit to humanity."
Octavio Paz (1990)
- "The Labyrinth of Solitude"
- "Eagle or Sun?"
- "Collected Poems, 1957 - 1987"
Paz wrote poetry influenced by many styles and themes, including surrealism, Marxism, love, spirituality, and particularly, his experiences in India. The Academy noted that his work was "characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."
Camilo Jose Cela (1989)
- "The Family of Pascual Duarte"
- "The Hive"
- "Christ versus Arizona"
Cela's notable work "Christ versus Arizona" is the story of a duel, written in a single sentence that is more than 100 pages long. He won the Nobel Prize for his "rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability."
Naguib Mahfouz (1988)
- "Cairo Trilogy"
- "Children of Gebelawi"
- "Midaq Alley"
Mahfouz supported Egypt's peace treaty with Israel in 1978 and ended up on an Islamic fundamentalist "death list". The Academy noted that Mahfouz, "through works rich in nuance ... has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind."
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