Nobel Prize for Literature Controversies: From Unknown Winners to Sartre's Refusal

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), October 5, 2017 | Go to article overview

Nobel Prize for Literature Controversies: From Unknown Winners to Sartre's Refusal


India, Oct. 5 -- Critics speculate the Swedish Academy might not opt for a controversial choice this time, after singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel literature prize last year.

The 18-member Academy will announce the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, the academy said on its website.

Not only was Dylan the first singer-songwriter to win the prestigious award, he was silent for weeks after his victory and snubbed the ceremony in Stockholm in December. The unconventional choice sparked months of debates, with critics analysing if Dylan was the rightful recipient of the coveted award or if his songs could be construed as literature at all.

Here's a look at other controversies over the Nobel Prize for Literature:

First to refuse the Nobel

The 1964 laureate French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, whose political philosophy was partly based on the criticism of institutions, was the first writer to refuse the prize. He wrote that he "always declined official honours".

A hand of the Swedish Academy?

Some winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature raised eyebrows because they were members of the Nobel Academy that chooses the laureates. They include the little-known Swedish joint-winners Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, who in 1974 beat out Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov.

Contested opinion

Dario Fo, the Italian playwright and performer who won the prize in 1997, was one of the Nobel laureates who particularly divided opinion.

While the academy lauded Fo for emulating the spirit of the 'jesters of Middle Ages', but a lot of people, including other writers could not stomach the idea that the prize could go to some one whose work included buffoonery and farce.

Most notably, Fo's prize riled Catholic priests who were appalled at his interpretation of the faith. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote, "Giving the prize to someone who is also the author of questionable works is beyond imagination," the New York Times reported.

Still, the author of the 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' remains one of the most popular contemporary playwrights. …

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