Controversies that have dogged the Nobel Prize for Literature awards


2018: Resignations over a #MeToo scandal

Until this year, the Swedish Academy's 18 members technically held the position for life. That changed when three group members stepped down in protest against the Academy membership of poet Katarina Frostenson, whose husband is accused of sexual harassment. Academy secretary Sara Danius (photo) and Frostenson also left shortly afterwards, leading to the decision to postpone the 2018 award.


1989: Resignations in support of Salman Rushdie

While the famous author of "The Satanic Verses" never won the Nobel Prize in Literature, some members of the Swedish Academy felt their organization should denounce Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's assassination in 1989. The Academy refused to do so, and three members resigned in protest.


He didn't comment for weeks: Bob Dylan

He became the first singer-songwriter to obtain the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, shocking quite a few literature purists. Then Dylan didn't even seem that interested by the recognition. He didn't show up at the awards ceremony and simply sent a brief thank-you speech instead of the traditional Nobel lecture. He finally collected his prize in Stockholm in March 2017.


A late tribute to his first novel: Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann received the prize in 1929, but it wasn't for his most recent work, "The Magic Mountain" (1924), which the jury found too tedious. The distinction instead recognized his debut novel, "Buddenbrooks" — published 28 years earlier. Time had apparently added to its value. The jury said, it "has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature."


Too many people: Elfriede Jelinek

When she was honored with the prize in 2004, Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek also refused to go to the awards ceremony. "I cannot manage being in a crowd of people. I cannot stand public attention," the reclusive playwright said. The Swedish Academy had to accept her agoraphobia, but she did, at least, hold her Nobel lecture — per video.


Couldn't accept the prize: Boris Pasternak

The Soviet author, world famous for his novel "Doctor Zhivago," obtained Nobel recognition in 1958. However, Soviet authorities forced him to decline the prize; he wouldn't be able to re-enter the country if he went to the Stockholm ceremony. Even though he followed his government's orders, he was still demonized afterwards. His son picked up the award in 1989, 29 years after the author's death.


'Not literature': Dario Fo

When Italian comedian and playwright Dario Fo won the prize in 1997, the announcement came as a shock to many literary critics, who saw him as just an entertainer and not a real literary figure with an international standing. The satirist fired back with his Nobel speech, which he titled "Against jesters who defame and insult."


Literature, not Peace: Winston Churchill

Although British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945, he actually obtained the award for his written works — mostly memoirs, history volumes and speeches — in 1953. The jury praised "his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."


Did he want the money?: Jean-Paul Sartre

The French philosopher and playwright was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, but he declined it, saying that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution" by accepting official honors. It was rumored that he later asked for the prize money anyway — but that story was never confirmed.


The youngest winner: Rudyard Kipling

Winning the award in 1907 at the age of 41, British author Joseph Rudyard Kipling, best known for "The Jungle Book" (1894), remains the youngest Nobel laureate in literature to this day. However, his legacy has since been marred by the fact that Kipling, who spent his early childhood and some of his adult life in India, vehemently spoke out in defense of British colonialism.

Winning a Nobel Prize is considered one of the world's greatest honors. If this year's pick was surprising, it wasn't as controversial as many others – such as last year's. Here are laureates that have caused a stir.

Though the Swedish Academy's selection of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro as its 2017 literature laureate was well-received, this has not always been the case.

In fact, just one year earlier, the Academy's decision to bestow its distinguished literary award — and the accompanying $1.1 million (€937,000) prize — to Bob Dylan unleashed a storm of criticism, with many arguing the American musician and songwriter did not deserve an award that was typically bestowed on novelists, dramatists, and writers of non-fiction.

Read more: Opinion: Bob Dylan, the first rapper

Literaturnobelpreis | Kazuo Ishiguro

The Academy's decision to give Ishiguo the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was seen as a return to a more conventional awardee

Dylan's reluctant acknowledgement of the award and his decision to be absent at the official award ceremony in December only added fuel to the fire.

Yet Dylan is just the most recent example of controversy surrounding the Nobel Prize for Literature award series.

Other individual recipients have led to outcry and insults, such as Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 literature laureate who was said to focus more on politics than prose. And Russian dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's decision not to attend his 1970 Stockholm prize ceremony due to fear of Soviet repression escalated to the point that he said the Swedes' conditions for acceptance were "an insult to the Nobel Prize itself."

Mexiko peruanischer Nobel Literature Prize Mario Vargas Llosa in der Buchmesse von Guadalajara

Critics took an issue with the politics of Mario Vargas Llosa, who won the literature award in 2010

In addition, the Academy itself has been accused of Eurocentrism and gender biases. Critics of the literature award, in particular, argue it is highly subjective.

Based on the will of philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, the award should go to "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." Yet there is no unanimous consensus on what constitutes this "ideal."

At the end of the day, a great read depends on the opinion of each reader as much as on the Swedish selection committee.

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