Nobel writer prize anyone’s guess

2010-10-07 09:48
Stockholm - With European novelists dominating recent Nobel literature awards, experts are guessing the Swedish Academy will look farther afield when it announces the 2010 winner on Thursday.

South Korean poet Ko Un and Syria's Adonis are generating the most buzz among Swedish Nobel watchers, while betting agencies are giving lower odds to Ngugi wa Thiong'o of Kenya and American novelist Cormac McCarthy.

The secretive academy doesn't give any hints. All permanent secretary Peter Englund would say is that the 16-member panel had already selected a winner last week, though the formal vote would be made on Thursday.

Five Europeans and one Turk have received the prestigious 10 million kronor ($1.5m) prize in the past six years. All were primarily novelists except playwright Harold Pinter, who won in 2005.

The Swedish Academy has been criticised for being too Euro-centric, ignoring writers from other parts of the world. Englund's predecessor Horace Engdahl sparked outrage in US literature circles two years ago when he dismissed American writers as "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture".

Political bias

It has also been accused of having a political bias, favouring left-leaning writers, which Englund rejected.

"I would say that the academy in its work is free of political bias," he told The Associated Press in an interview last week.

"I would say also that that is not possible because you can find very different political views inside the academy."

Literature expert Maria Schottenius at Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, who correctly predicted last year's winner Herta Mueller of Germany, said she believes it will be Ko or Adonis this year, with songwriter Bob Dylan as an outsider.

Ko is "the kind of person who is trying to unite his divided country with poetry and he writes about everything he encounters, all the people, stones, plants and animals," she said.

Swedish national broadcaster SVT also pointed to Ko and Adonis as potential winners, with Algeria's Assia Djebar and Canadian writer Alice Munro among its other top candidates.

Errors in previous picks

A wild card could be Thiong'o who topped betting site Unibet's list. The Kenyan writer, known for his provocative satire about post-colonial Africa, visited Sweden's biggest book fair last month.

Another betting site, Ladbrokes, gave the lowest odds on its list of potential winners to McCarthy, author of best-selling books The Road and No Country for Old Men.

Other writers that figure frequently in Nobel speculation include Americans Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Thomas Pynchon, Israel's Amos Oz and Claudio Magris of Italy.

Englund, who replaced Engdahl as the academy's permanent secretary last year, acknowledged that the panel has made some errors in previous picks.

"There were some prizes that went wrong, there were a number of people that the academy missed," Englund said. "This is not the Vatican of literature; we are not infallible in that way."

Englund declined to name the prizes that he believed went wrong, but said it was a mistake to not give the prize to Danish author Karen Blixen, also known by her pen name, Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa about her life in Kenya in the early 1930's.

Other famous writers who didn't get the prize include Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, James Joyce and Graham Greene.

The academy has selected the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature since 1901, in line with the wishes of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who established the Nobel Prizes in his 1895 will.

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