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Nobel Prize for Literature

The Most Prestigious Award in Literature

Perhaps the biggest achievement any author can hope for is to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Unlike many other literary awards, the Nobel Prize is given to authors based on the entirety of their work, not just one piece of writing. The Nobel Laureates are chosen annually by the Swedish Academy, and the Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm each year.

Swedish visionary Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) wished to honor those who advanced the progress of humanity, so the Nobel Prize was established in 1901 in accordance with Nobel?s will. In his will, Nobel wrote that each year, a prize should be given "to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction".

Winners of the Nobel Prize receive a diploma, a Nobel Prize Medal, and a cash prize. The amount of the cash prize has fluctuated through the years, but the winners of the 2012 Nobel Prizes each won approximately 1.2 million dollars (USD).

Dark Years for the Nobel Prize

Interestingly, it is not guaranteed that the Swedish Academy will choose to present the Nobel Prize for Literature each year. In fact, there have been seven years where the Prize was not awarded. Alfred Nobel created a high standard for the quality of work that could be considered eligible, and if the Academy decides that none of the considered works merits such distinction, the prize will not be awarded and the monetary reward shall be returned to the Nobel Prize Foundation?s funds. The Nobel Prize for Literature was not awarded in 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943. It bears mentioning that those years marked the devastating turmoil of World War One and World War Two, and fewer Nobel Prizes were awarded during those times.

Controversy about Nobel Prize Winners

The lack of diversity among Nobel Prize winners has been the subject of much controversy. Even though over 100 Nobel Prizes for Literature have been presented since 1901, only thirteen of them have gone to women authors. Further, many argue that the nationality of the winners has been largely Euro-centric, with particular emphasis on Swedish authors. The Swedish Academy has been criticized for not being inclusive of foreign authors, but in 1984 they began a concerted effort to diversify the works for consideration. While many of the winners have published works in English, French, and German, others have written books in Bengali, Turkish, and Yiddish.

Additionally, there has been quite a bit of debate over the worthiness of certain winners, and some have claimed that more deserving writers were not chosen as Nobel Prize winners due to their political worldviews. Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges had a long and distinguished literary career, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times. Some believe that his right-wing political views and support for dictators such as Pinochet may have steered the Academy to choose other writers for the Prize. Finally, in the long history of the Nobel Prize for Literature, only two winners have declined the award. Author Boris Pasternak was forced to decline the award by his home country of the Soviet Union in 1958, and writer Jean Paul Sartre declined the Prize in 1964 because he ideologically declined all honors and awards.

Winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature enjoy all of the pomp and circumstance that comes with being a Nobel Prize winner, and they also enjoy a large bump in sales of their works. It is not uncommon for there to be a rush of orders for their books, and they will often top the international best-seller's lists, and first, signed, and deluxe editions of their books will typically skyrocket in value.

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