STOCKHOLM, October 7 – After almost a decade of exclusively Western authors, will the Nobel Prize for Literature broaden its horizons? Providers of the prestigious award have a chance on Thursday to deliver on their diversity pledge.
A #MeToo scandal caused the postponement of the 2018 award and criticism is recurring on the choice of the male and Eurocentric laureates.
And it’s been two years since the Swedish Academy which awards the prize promised new criteria that would lead to a more global and egalitarian literature prize.
Since then, two women have won the honor: Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk for 2018, and American poet Louise Gluck last year.
But 2019 winner Austria’s Peter Handke was a controversial choice. His pro-Serbian positions extended to support former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who was on trial for genocide upon his death in 2006.
The promise of a more geographical distribution has not been kept so far.
The most recent winner who was neither European nor American was Chinese Mo Yan, in 2012.
“Is it time for the Nobel Prize for Literature to wake up?” », First Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter asked this weekend.
The trends of the Swedish Academy are largely impenetrable – appointments and deliberations are kept secret for 50 years.
But that does not prevent literary circles from indulging in frenzied speculation on dozens of very diverse candidates.
“They understood that they had to be very discreet, very secret, because that makes things more magical, more exciting,” Hakan Bravinger, literary director of Swedish publisher Norstedts, told AFP. His own favorite this year was Canada’s Margaret Atwood, he added.
The Academy’s Nobel Committee, made up of five members, elected for three years, is responsible for collecting and discussing nominations before submitting a list of five names to the other 13 members of the Swedish Academy.
After deliberation, the 18 members of the Academy vote in early October to designate a winner.
“I think they really want to discover a genius from a previously neglected field,” said Jonas Thente, literary critic for the Swedish daily. Dagens Nyheter.
He predicted that the Academy would likely favor Hungarian Peter Nadas.
But her own hopes are for Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her novels on “intercultural experiences” – even though at 44 she is “probably too young” for a Nobel, he added.
The youngest recipient to date was Rudyard Kipling, who was honored at the age of 41 in 1907.
Critics have pointed out that non-Western writers are not uncommon.
Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o is regularly cited as an African author worthy of this award, as are Somali Nuruddin Farah and Mozambican Mia Couto.
The South Korean Ko Un star may have faded following accusations of sexual assault, but Indian Vikram Seth and Chinese Can Xue, Yan Lianke and Lao Yiwu (pen name Lao Wei) were also cited as potential winners.
The major Western countries have all had several winners, with France topping the list with 15.
But the two most populous nations in the world, India and China, have only one each, not to mention Gao Xingjian, a naturalized French citizen of Chinese origin.
Jamaican Caribbean-Americans Kincaid and Maryse Conde from Guadeloupe were also mentioned.
If either of them won, it would be the first time a black woman has been honored since American Toni Morrison in 1993.
Maria Hymna Ramnehill, daily critic Göteborgs-Posten, said she was banking on a playwright, like Norwegian Jon Fosse.
Canadian Anne Carson, Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion, Russian Ludmila Ulitskaya, Franco-Rwandan Scholastique Mukasonga and French novelist Annie Ernaux have all been named the 17th potential winner out of 117 laureates since 1901.
The Syrian poet Adonis, a long favorite of bookmakers, has so far been ignored by the Academy, as has the Japanese Haruki Murakami.
Their admirers fear to follow in the footsteps of writers like the American Philip Roth, who died without a Nobel.
When it comes to an author like the Frenchman Michel Houellebecq, his incendiary style and personality can clash with the tastes of the Academy.
The 1895 will of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel creating the prizes stated that the body of work was to be in an “idealistic direction”.
However, Handke’s example proves that the Academy is always ready to ruffle the feathers if they think the body of work is worthy of recognition.
“You would have thought that the Academy would have wanted to stay away from the scandal, but that only proves that the award is more unpredictable than ever,” Jonas Thente said. – AFP