Adam Ash

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Bookplanet: Nobel for Literature announced soon - will a Major Chick Writer win it?

Three speculations about the Nobel Prize for Literature, to be announced next week sometime (maybe Thursday).

1. From, of all places:

Women writers, long overlooked by the Swedish Academy which each year awards the Nobel Literature Prize, could be well-placed to take home the honours this year, observers said, citing Algeria's Assia Djebar, Joyce Carol Oates of the United States and Dane Inger Christensen as potential winners.

Among the usual suspects whose names have surfaced year after year are US novelist Philip Roth, Albania's Ismael Kadare, Czech author Milan Kundera, Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis and Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer.

All of them worthy men, no doubt, but perhaps not what the Nobel committee is looking for this year.

"In Stockholm there has been a lot of talk, and it has intensified this year, that there are so few women who have won the prize," Svante Weyler, chief editor at Norstedts, one of Sweden's biggest publishing houses, told AFP.

The Academy has honoured only nine women since the prize was first handed out in 1901. Most recently, it went to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska in 1996.

Before her, there was African-American writer Toni Morrison in 1993 and South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in 1991, but before that you have to go all the way back to 1966, when Nelly Sachs of Sweden won.

While the Academy is as tight-lipped as ever about this year's laureate, Stockholm's literary circles are abuzz with speculation as the clock ticks down towards the big announcement, expected either this Thursday or the next.

Among those also mentioned as possible winners are poetesses Friederike Mayroecker of Austria and Vizma Belsevica of Latvia, Russian poet Gennady Aygi, Spanish author Alvaro Pombo, Hungarian novelists Peter Esterhazy and Peter Nadas, Somalian writer Nuruddin Farah and an old favourite, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood

Last year, the honours went to J.M. Coetzee of South Africa, and the year before to Hungary's Imre Kertesz.

"If the past two winners had not been so unanimously accepted then the subject (of the prize going to a woman) would have come up much sooner," Weyler said.

He said he believed the Academy was "sensitive" to public opinion, and said he could see the prize going to Inger Christensen. "She's one of Europe's leading lyricists whose name has been mentioned many times."

She could however be precluded from the Nobel after having won the Swedish Academy's Nordic Authors' Prize in 1994, often seen as the "little Nobel" for the region's writers.

Jonas Thente, literary critic for Sweden's largest daily Dagens Nyheter, said he was putting his money on Algerian novelist, poet and filmmaker Assia Djebar, whose books deal with post-colonial identity issues.

French philosopher-writer Jacques Derrida was also seen as a possible winner of the 10-million-kronor (1.37-million-dollar, 1.10-million-euro) prize.

"He is one of the biggest names in post-structuralism," Thente said. "And Academy secretary Horace Engdahl and member Katarina Frostenson are known to be big fans of his."

Dutch-language authors Cees Nooteboom and Hugo Claus have long been mentioned as possible laureates, as has Peruvian writer Mario Varga Llosa.

But Weyler suggested they had probably been taken off the short list.

"Their names have been mentioned for so long and they've never won, so the Academy has probably been unable to reach unanimity and dropped their names," he said.

Thente said he would like to see "the great American postmodernist authors Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon" take home the prestigious award, but Weyler said he didn't think they had a chance.

"They are great epic writers, but they are considered very mainstream. They're not very experimental, pushing the boundaries of literature," he said.

Weyler said German poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger was however one such writer. "He's a totally genius author, very erudite, and he moves the boundaries all the time."

He said the Academy liked to put the spotlight on lesser-known writers.

"They are very good at lifting up those writers who are known to the literary crowd but that ought to be known to a broader audience," Weyler said.

Meanwhile, Scandinavia's largest bookstore, Akademibokhandeln in Stockholm, said it was busily preparing for the big announcement, preparing a special table displaying potential winners -- and hoping for Joyce Carol Oates.

"She's our favourite here," assistant manager Agneta Lind said.

And for the gambling crowd, Adonis is the given winner. Online betting site Ladbrokes gives the poet six-to-four odds, edging out Joyce Carol Oates with nine-to-four odds and Tomas Transtroemer with four-to-one odds.

2. From Sweden S.E.:

Nobel Literature Prize: could a new twist win over tradition? -- by Nina Larson

The Nobel Literature Prize has for decades gone to fiction writers and poets, but just days before this year's winner is revealed some say the prestigious prize could be awarded within a different genre altogether.
While the list of usual suspects appears to be largely the same as in recent years, featuring US novelists Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, Ismael Kadare of Albania, Israeli Amos Oz and Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer, the Swedish Academy might just have a surprise in store this year.
"The Academy has spoken of wanting to broaden the prize, which could open the door for instance for literary journalists like Polish Ryszard Kapuscinski," said Eva Bonnier, head of Sweden's Bonnier publishing house.
"Kapuscinski is a possibility. It would be very exciting if the Academy decides to go in that direction," agreed Ola Larsmo, a freelance literary critic who writes for Sweden's paper of record Dagens Nyheter.
He acknowledged however that "there are no clear-cut signs that this will happen", pointing out that the Academy has been tight-lipped about this year's laureate ahead of the announcement, expected on October 6 or the Thursday after.
If the Academy does decide to embrace a new genre, Larsmo said a prominent literary critic might also win.
"Someone like Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot or Susan Sontag. But they are all dead now (and the prize cannot be awarded posthumously), so I'm not quite sure who would be the most appropriate candidate today."
Head of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl acknowledged that "it is important that the prize develops as literature develops".
And if the award ends up going to a non-fiction writer it would not be the first time, he said, pointing out that Alfred Nobel did not specify in his will that it had to go to a fiction writer.
Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, several non-fiction writers and non-poets have won, including Bertrand Russell in 1950 for his philosophical writings and Winston Churchill three years later for his historical texts.
"It's been a long time since the prize has gone to someone like that. Esthetic literature has dominated because, I think, the modernist trend has been to frown upon scientific literature," Engdahl told AFP, adding that it might be time to reevaluate the scope of the award.
Once prone to leaks, the Academy has in recent years been careful not to let the laureate's name slip out in advance.
"We have a very strict discipline now. No documents leave the building and the (Academy) members are not allowed to discuss the choice by email or with members of their family. So far this year, I have not seen any sign that there is a leak," Engdahl said.
As an indication that the system works, controversial Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek's name was not even mentioned among the possible laureates before she won the prize last year.
"I think this year's choice will be a much more expected choice than last year. Jelinek was extremely unexpected," observed Svante Weyler, the former head of Sweden's largest publishing house, Norstedt.
"The Academy tends to like to mix the expected with the unexpected choices," he said, putting his money on the likes of Roth, Oz and Algerian novelist, poet and filmmaker Assia Djebar.
Other clear candidates, according to Bonnier, include Dutch-language authors Cees Nooteboom and Hugo Claus, Somalia's Nuruddin Farah and Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri.
Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, who was recently charged in Turkey with "public denigration of the Turkish identity" for remarks he made about the country's massacre of Armenians, might also win the award, Weyler said.
"Pamuk is an obvious candidate," he said, adding however that the 53-year-old author's young age may count against him.
"The Academy may not want to give the prize to another young author" after honoring 57-year-old Jelinek.
Also making an older winner more likely is an Academy rule that it never gives the prize to someone figuring for the first time on its short-list of five potential winners.
"Candidates must figure on the short-list at least two years running to win," Engdahl said, insisting that the final vote is not influenced by considerations such as gender or geography.
"Fortunately it's not about such silly demands for fairness and balance but about good books," Larsmo said.
"The Academy is a bit unpredictable, and that's a good thing. The more unpredictable they are the better it is for literature," he added.

3. From Reuters:

"At last!": literary Nobel to confound critics again -- by Stephen Brown

Bookworms will once again smile over their reading glasses or snort with contempt at next week's Nobel literature award for 2005 by a Swedish panel seen variously as standard-bearers for quality or a bunch of snobs.

Second-guessing whom the Swedish Academy will pick for the 10 million crown ($1.28 million) prize on Oct. 6 is difficult as the shortlist is a jealously guarded secret.

"The Nobel committee has been very good at coming up with names that were not expected. They will surprise us again," said Frederik Tygstrup, a literature professor in Copenhagen.

The political climate always colours speculation about who will win. The Iraq war has created a lobby for an Arab winner -- Syrian poet Adonis is the bookies' favourite followed by poets Ko Un of South Korea and Thomas Transtromer of Sweden.

For the past five years, journalists at the Academy ceremony have greeted the announcement with a sarcastic cry of "At last!". The cry was first uttered by Swedish journalist Gert Fylking in protest at "intellectual snobbery".

"It's the 'Oscar' of literature, televised all over the world, but they pick the weirdest authors," said Fylking.

But, while even Austria was surprised when Elfriede Jelinek won last year, winners are often deemed obscure for being outside the mainstream of widely translated Anglophone authors.

The Academy -- motto "Genius and Taste" -- is resolutely highbrow but has crossed cultural divides since the prize began in 1901.

Recent winners include writers in Chinese, Polish and Hungarian. Some, like poet Gao Xingjian, were not even widely read in their homelands. Others, like Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, already enjoyed huge popularity worldwide.

Academy head Horace Engdahl contrasts the "vivid" interest from countries with varied tastes to the "perfunctory" interest from Britons and Americans, who largely read their own authors.

"A French or a German reader, or writer or critic, is more likely to have access to the great dialogue of literatures that Goethe called 'Weltliteratur'," he told Reuters.


Engdahl blanches at the comparison to the Oscars, saying the Nobel prize "ranks higher and is remembered longer".

"I prefer the old-fashioned set-up of the Nobel ceremony (in December) with king and queen and professors in tails to the plastic surgeon glamour of the Oscar Gala," he told Reuters.

The Nobel selection panel is often accused of favouring left-leaning writers, though Engdahl denied this.

Franck Nouchi, Le Monde's literary editor, said that too often the selection was "politically correct".

"I'd like to be surprised by ... an audacious gesture. That doesn't mean awarding it to an Uzbek poet or novelist whom we would discover through the Nobel, but someone not necessarily considered 'Nobel-isable'," said the French journalist.

He suggested American novelist Philip Roth, author of "The Human Stain", or an Israeli writer such as Aharon Appelfeld.

After Jelinek won, the conservative U.S. Weekly Standard stormed that the "infamous snobs" of the Academy had again given the prize to "an unknown, undistinguished, leftist fanatic".

There is a fair spattering of leftist laureates, but there are also conservative icons, like Rudyard Kipling, eulogist of the British Empire, and Winston Churchill.

Going further right, Norway's 1920 laureate, Knut Hamsun, was later convicted of collaborating with the Nazis in World War Two.

The most controversial choice were Swedes Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson in 1974: not for trumping Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov, but because both were on the Nobel panel.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Brothers in Paris and Peter Starck in Copenhagen)

LADBROKE MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING. This could be the year for Arabs, since the US is causing so much shit there, in which case Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis will win. Be nice if Joyce Carol Oates wins, because she's such a small, bird-like cute little chick (I guess that's sexist of me, but hey, that's what I think of her) yet she's written so many books, what the fuck by her should one actually read? Is there an agreed-upon single masterpiece?


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