Nobel Authors

I get the impression that few Americans have any idea who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. Let’s make the test to name the last ten recipients of that honor … ask your friends … how are we doing?

Ten years is a good test but here is the list going back to the last American who was selected by the Nobel committee:

  • 2011 – Tomas Tranströmer
  • 2010 – Mario Vargas Llosa
  • 2009 – Herta Müller
  • 2008 – Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
  • 2007 – Doris Lessing
  • 2006 – Orhan Pamuk
  • 2005 – Harold Pinter
  • 2004 – Elfriede Jelinek
  • 2003 – John M. Coetzee
  • 2002 – Imre Kertész
  • 2001 – Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
  • 2000 – Gao Xingjian
  • 1999 – Günter Grass
  • 1998 – José Saramago
  • 1997 – Dario Fo
  • 1996 – Wislawa Szymborska
  • 1995 – Seamus Heaney
  • 1994 – Kenzaburo Oe
  • 1993 – Toni Morrison

Does this list suggest that American Exceptionalism has come up short again? Do you suspect that some Americans are confused when Steven King, John Grisham and Dan Brown did not appear on the list?

I think the message is obvious:  if we want to read good contemporary literature we have to look outside of the United States and it might be a good idea to learn a couple of foreign languages too. This will not only lead to an expansion of our literary experience but will also help in understanding the ways of the world outside the box before states like Texas drive the nails into the lid and return us to the dark ages.

3 thoughts on “Nobel Authors

  1. To be fair, the award is for the entire world and is only awarded to one person once a year. Your hopes and national pride do you credit. There is no reason for an American to not win it, apart, perhaps from the publishing business. I have no doubt people there suffer the same emotions, inspirations and insights as authors elsewhere – but do they get the chance to express them? The other question could be the fairness of selection, but I am not qualified to ask it. Given the competition, I am quite happy with Irelands results from over the years in regard to this award.
    The fact that there is more out there than exists in our primary tongue is apparent to me, but Irelands state education system does a fantastic job of engendering a language phobia in each of its students. I was looking at Latin to start with recently.


  2. Good post. I realize that you read in french. I learned some french the past years, here in Mexico, but if I dont practice it a little bit from time to time, I´am afraid I´m gonna loose it.

    I´m thinking of starting to read in French, maybe some kids books for a start. What´s your experience with reading in that language?


    1. I actually can read in French and in Spanish. My Spanish is much more advanced but my French is far more current. Either way, it’s a struggle. As I slow down I think I will turn more to French and Spanish. When I was younger, the eagerness to read book after book made slowing down and struggling through books in another language too easy to skip.

      But every year I try to dedicate myself: it starts out well but soon fizzles. My daughter reads French fluently and even teaches French literature at the University. She tells me that whenever possible I should read the original and eschew the translation. Would that I could (or did more often).

      Last year I dedicated myself to reading 2666 in Spanish. I thought I would rekindle my old strength in the language and soon be whizzing along … but it wasn’t so triumphant and I put it away for awhile. Years ago I figured if I read Proust all the way through in French, I would emerge with a powerful reading knowledge of the language. I made it through the first volume … maybe I should pick it up again?

      I am intending to read Zola’s L’Argent in French this summer, mostly because it isn’t available in any decent translation. I’ll go slow. Many years ago a reading friend told me Dumas was easy reading to build your French skills; I never tried it but the advice seems reasonable.


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