What Is the Nobel Prize for Literature?

The Nobel Prize is without a doubt one of the most important and significant awards in the world. It is mostly known for recognizing individuals who campaign for world peace but there are other catergories for the medal. Since its creation in 1901, the Nobel Prize has recognized men and women for their excellent works in physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature.

The Nobel Prize for Literature is an annual award given out to an author from any country for their contributions to the field of literature. The contributions can be for individual works or a collected body of works. The Nobel Prize for Literature is administered by the Nobel Foundation and is awarded by a committee selected by the Swedish Academy. The prize is not necessarily given every year but only to those that the Swedish Academy feels is deserving of the award.

History of Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize was founded in 1895 by Alfred Nobel, an entrepreneur and pacifist, who stated in his last will the foundations to set up the prize. He donated much of his fortune to the establishment of the prize named after him. The first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded in 1901 and over the years, it has recognized authors of various countries. Some of the recipients have been well-known literary figures while others have been relative unknowns.

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The medal for the Nobel Prize for Literature was designed by Erik Lindberg. It depicts a young man sitting under a laurel tree who is listening to a Muse and is writing down his inspirations. The inscription on the medal reads “Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes” which loosely translated states “And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.” The words are taken from Vergilius Aeneid, the 6th song, verse 663. The winner’s name is engraved on the medal underneath the image and the text “ACAD. SUEC.” stands for the the Swedish Academy.

Winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature are called Laureates. Each laureate of the prize gets three things when they win. They receive a diploma, the medal, and a document confirming the amount of the prize money. The prize money is given out in Swedish kronor (or SEK) and in 2008, the total amount translated into approx. $1.4 million in U.S. dollars.

There has been criticism over the awarding of the Nobel Prize over the years. Many claim that some well-known writers deserve the medal while other’s who have won it were not deserving. Much of the criticism centers on international politics and behind-doors maneuvering for international recognition. Such criticisms have stirred up highly debated controversies that has marred the yearly award.

Rules and Requirements for Nobel Prize

Each year the Swedish Academy sends out thousands or requests for nominations. These requests are sent to members of the Swedish Academy, professors of literature, literary societies, former Nobel literature laureates, and chairholders of several writer’s organizations. Authors my be nominated by others but they may not nominate themselves.

The proposals that are returned are examined by the Nobel Committee who then narrow it down from the hundreds of returned proposals to just five names. In October of that year the members of the Swedish Academy vote and the nominee that receives more than half of the total votes is named the the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is the responsibility of the Academy to decide if any nominee is to win the prize that year. Some years have been skipped for various reasons, one being that a nominee could not be decided on. The winner is presented the award at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, which is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

Nobel Prize For Literature Winners

Since its creation back in 1901, The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to 105 international authors. Here is a list of all the laureates since 1901:

  • 2008 – Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (France)
  • 2007 – Doris Lessing (UK)
  • 2006 – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
  • 2005 – Harold Pinter (UK)
  • 2004 – Elfriede Jelinek (Austria)
  • 2003 – J. M. Coetzee (South Africa)
  • 2002 – Imre Kertész (Hungary)
  • 2001 – V. S. Naipaul (UK)
  • 2000 – Gao Xingjian (France)
  • 1999 – Günter Grass (Germany)
  • 1998 – José Saramago (Portugal)
  • 1997 – Dario Fo (Italy)
  • 1996 – Wislawa Szymborska (Poland)
  • 1995 – Seamus Heaney (Ireland)
  • 1994 – Kenzaburo Oe (Japan)
  • 1993 – Toni Morrison (US)
  • 1992 – Derek Walcott (Saint Lucia)
  • 1991 – Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
  • 1990 – Octavio Paz (Mexico)
  • 1989 – Camilo José Cela (Spain)
  • 1988 – Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
  • 1987 – Joseph Brodsky (US)
  • 1986 – Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)
  • 1985 – Claude Simon (France)
  • 1984 – Jaroslav Seifert (Czechoslovakia)
  • 1983 – William Golding (UK)
  • 1982 – Gabriel García Márquez (Columbia)
  • 1981 – Elias Canetti (UK)
  • 1980 – Czeslaw Milosz (Poland)
  • 1979 – Odysseus Elytis (Greece)
  • 1978 – Isaac Bashevis Singer (US)
  • 1977 – Vicente Aleixandre (Spain)
  • 1976 – Saul Bellow (US)
  • 1975 – Eugenio Montale (Italy)
  • 1974 – Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson (both from Sweden)
  • 1973 – Patrick White (Australia)
  • 1972 – Heinrich Böll (West Germany)
  • 1971 – Pablo Neruda (Chile)
  • 1970 – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (Soviet Union)
  • 1969 – Samuel Beckett (Ireland)
  • 1968 – Yasunari Kawabata (Japan)
  • 1967 – Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala)
  • 1966 – Shmuel Agnon, Nelly Sachs (Israel, Sweden)
  • 1965 – Mikhail Sholokhov (Soviet Union)
  • 1964 – Jean-Paul Sartre (France)
  • 1963 – Giorgos Seferis (Greece)
  • 1962 – John Steinbeck (US)
  • 1961 – Ivo Andric (Yugoslavia)
  • 1960 – Saint-John Perse (France)
  • 1959 – Salvatore Quasimodo (Italy)
  • 1958 – Boris Pasternak (Soviet Union)
  • 1957 – Albert Camus (France)
  • 1956 – Juan Ramón Jiménez (Spain)
  • 1955 – Halldór Laxness (Iceland)
  • 1954 – Ernest Hemingway (US)
  • 1953 – Winston Churchill (UK)
  • 1952 – François Mauriac (France)
  • 1951 – Pär Lagerkvist (Sweden)
  • 1950 – Bertrand Russell (UK)
  • 1949 – William Faulkner (US)
  • 1948 – T.S. Eliot (UK)
  • 1947 – André Gide (France)
  • 1946 – Hermann Hesse (Switzerland)
  • 1945 – Gabriela Mistral (Chile)
  • 1944 – Johannes V. Jensen (Denmark)
  • 1943 – No Award.
  • 1942 – No Award.
  • 1941 – No Award.
  • 1940 – No Award.
  • 1939 – Frans Eemil Sillanpää (Finland)
  • 1938 – Pearl Buck (US)
  • 1937 – Roger Martin du Gard (France)
  • 1936 – Eugene O’Neill (US)
  • 1935 – No Award.
  • 1934 – Luigi Pirandello (Italy)
  • 1933 – Ivan Bunin (France)
  • 1932 – John Galsworthy (UK)
  • 1931 – Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Sweden)
  • 1930 – Sinclair Lewis (US)
  • 1929 – Thomas Mann (Germany)
  • 1928 – Sigrid Undset (Norway)
  • 1927 – Henri Bergson (France)
  • 1926 – Grazia Deledda (Italy)
  • 1925 – George Bernard Shaw (Ireland)
  • 1924 – Wladyslaw Reymont (Poland)
  • 1923 – William Butler Yeats (Ireland)
  • 1922 – Jacinto Benavente (Spain)
  • 1921 – Anatole France (France)
  • 1920 – Knut Hamsun (Norway)
  • 1919 – Carl Spitteler (Switzerland)
  • 1918 – No Award.
  • 1917 – Karl Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan (both from Denmark)
  • 1916 – Verner von Heidenstam (Sweden)
  • 1915 – Romain Rolland (France)
  • 1914 – No Award.
  • 1913 – Rabindranath Tagore (India)
  • 1912 – Gerhart Hauptmann (Germany)
  • 1911 – Maurice Maeterlinck (Belgium)
  • 1910 – Paul Heyse (Germany)
  • 1909 – Selma Lagerlöf (Sweden)
  • 1908 – Rudolf Eucken (Germany)
  • 1907 – Rudyard Kipling (UK)
  • 1906 – Giosuè Carducci (Italy)
  • 1905 – Henryk Sienkiewicz (Poland)
  • 1904 – Frédéric Mistral, José Echegaray (France, Spain)
  • 1903 – Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Norway)
  • 1902 – Theodor Mommsen (Germany)
  • 1901 – Sully Prudhomme (France)