The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature: Our Office Pool

By Susan Harris

Between the World Cup and the World Series comes high season for world literature: time to place your bets on this year's candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature. You can read two of the usual suspects, Adonis and Ko Un, right here, as well as laureates Herta Müller, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Naguib Mahfouz, and, of course, any number of contenders. The Nobels will start rolling out with Physiology/Medicine on October 4 through Economics on the 11th; as always, Literature brings up the rear, at a date to be announced later. In the meantime, we invite your speculations, nominations, dark horses, wild cards, and longshots from now till Stockholm breaks the news (and a dozen writers' hearts).



Can I just put my last year’s in again and say Marias? I’ll have to think about this and come up with someone new.


Jonathan Franzen.  No, just kidding.


You take your Franzen out of here sir. Besides, it hasn’t even been 20 years since an American won and I imagine we need a good 25 or so.

I have come up with my bet for this year though: Elias Khoury


Do you mean 25 more? I can’t think of a single prominent American who fits the current Nobel profile. Either the committee will have to change their minds about what they’re honoring or someone who is currently off the map would have to very suddenly rise to prominence (which itself would be a change from the current norm) in order for an American to win in the next 5 years. More likely, it’s going to be a long time before another American wins.


Philip Roth


Roth does seem like an obvious candidate in some respects, but—and this is my main point here—I think he would have been much more likely to win say 30 years ago than today. At this point it seems that if they were going to give it to him, they would have already. I wouldn’t say it’s flat out impossible to imagine (unlike some other people who get mentioned), but it does strike me as being somewhat unlikely. He may be the obvious American, but that having been insufficient to date, I’m not sure he’ll live long enough for it to be America’s “turn” again in the current environment.


Haruki Murakami


Fereydoun : Well, actually, I don’t think there have been many Laureates in their forties (and I’m also under the impression that there were quite a few in their seventies and eighties).

Roth’s recent work speaks well to the Nobel’s focus, and although their selections don’t seem to me to be very obvious, I do think he’s an obvious and worthy candidate. I think last year Joyce Carol Oats was talked about and she seems less obvious to me.

When I said another five years, I wasn’t being quite as cynical as my comment suggested, as I was thinking that someone like Roth would have been nominated many times and just didn’t get selected.

Even though he was being glib in his comment above, Levi is better qualified than I am to talk about American authors who might fit the bill. What say ye, Levi?


Hmm, Bud, actually your Elias Khoury guess struck me as a good one. 

As far as Americans go, I would be very surprised to see Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates win it this year or any year.  I wonder if Paul Auster is on anybody’s list.


Why would Roth surprise you? (genuinely curious)


Well, at the risk of oversimplifying what I hope is a very broad and multi-layered selection process: I think the Nobel Prize for Literature tends to go to a writer with some kind of positive or constructive global/political message.  Even Harold Pinter, whose tone was so dark and angry, ultimately seemed to believe the world could have a better future if we could smarten up in a few key ways.  (Not that Pinter ever seemed to think it was likely that this would happen, but still the hope was there.)

Philip Roth’s work, I think, ultimately points to no optimistic possibilities at all.  He’s a global pessimist.  I’m having trouble picturing what hopeful words Roth could offer at all during a hypothetical acceptance speech that would be consistent with the psychologically gloomy, essentially separatist tone of his fiction.

That’s what I think.  My track record’s no better than anybody else’s, though—the last Laureate I guessed correctly was Orhan Pamuk.


Harry Mulisch


Murakami is certainly a reasonable guess. Along with whoever M. A. Orthofer is picking.


John Berger ...


That sounds reasonable to me, Levi, though it doesn’t give the Nobel committee much credit for being as literary as they claim to be. I might be naive to quote this, but they say:

One of the few reminiscences of the “ideal direction” policy of the earlier age is the homage paid to those great artistic achievements that are characterized by uncompromising “integrity” in the depiction of the human predicament

I was talking to Susan and she seems to be aligned with Fereydoun’s comments in terms of it being passed his time. We discussed The Plot Against America being a miss (pardon me Susan if I put words in your mouth). The Human Stain wasn’t any great literary achievement, but it certainly provided a perspective on reactionary attitudes on racism. I haven’t seen any talk about Nemesis.

Khoury is still my bet, but I think Roth would be worthy, more so than JCO. Murakami doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies. And of course, it may very well be someone whom “we Americans” have never heard of!


John Berger!


Is Pynchon a possibility?  His name has ranked fairly high with the odds makers the last couple years (along with Roth and Oates).


Umberto Eco!


Sorry to be rejoining the conversation belatedly. I should have been more clear: I didn’t mean that I thought the Roth of 30 years ago would have been more likely to win, but that the Nobel Committee of 30 years ago would have been more likely to honor Roth. I simply don’t think his profile fits what they’re looking for anymore, partly for reasons not very different to Levi’s, though I think there are other issues as well.

For what it’s worth, Khoury seems as good a guess as any, and certainly someone who more closely fits my understanding of what they’re looking for.

Someone who does not—much less so than Roth, who I think is only unlikely to be chosen—is Murakami. Lately his name gets mentioned every year and every year I’m absolutely baffled as to why (apart from his shameless campaigning and undeniable popularity, neither of which seem likely to endear him to the committee). To be blunt, I have a very hard time imagining him even being discussed by the committee. But even apart from my personal dislike of his work, it just seems like a category error to me. Whether or not he’s a great writer, even a cursory look at the list of winners from the last 15 years should make it clear that he’s not the kind of writer they honor. I would be very shocked if they ever chose to honor him.


If the Committee honored playwrights more often, Edward Albee would be a great choice as he has extended the possibilities of theatrical form as much as as any playwright in the last 50 years.  But along with not giving the award to many playwrights, the Committee also has a poor history regarding queer laureates.  The way they pass over Juan Goytisolo every year is shameful.  And when they did honor a queer writer by giving the award to Patrick White, they insulted him by the dismissive way they invited him and his companion to the ceremony.


Where is Amos Oz this year? In 2009 he was frontrunner at the bookmakers until a few hours before the Committee’s announcement.


I feel the prize , this year , will go to a poet and my choice is the Korean Ko Un .


But why not?

I understand what you are saying…and I tend to agree that works by authors who have some popularity tend to be ignored, but Murakami’s “Wind Up Bird Chronicle” seems to be appropriate as a foundation for a bid.

Also, I am a bit mystified by your claim that he is “shamelessly campaigning” for a Nobel. I’ve never heard that anywhere…


Were I on the committee I’d award the prize to Elias Khoury and Amoz Oz ex aequo - a perfect fit in every direction and purely on the grounds of literary achievement in both cases. But it won’t happen, I bet.

Neither Murakami, Oates or Auster nor Eco are Nobel Prize material, however much one may like their works. Same goes for Philip Roth; and then Pynchon, whom I love very much, is non-eligible for well known reasons, I suppose.

The single most deserving writer would be Don DeLillo. And he’s on the list for a quarter century now, as is Ko Un. So, what about Nuruddin Farah or Assia Djebar? They might even consider David Grossman. But I would never bet on anything with the Committee.


Alice Munro.  For a lifetime of perfect sentences.


Peter Handke for all his experience with the peratology of language.


Now I have seen the first Ladbrokes betting: on top is Tomas Transtromer, Swedish poet. It will not be him, I am sure, but among the top-ranked there are many poets. So perhaps it is to become the year of the poets after all.


Why is it hat nowadays only fiction seems to be considered when it comes to giving out Nobel prizes? While there is so much great non-fiction literature being published and having an impact on society! I would (for example) propose biologist E.O. Wilson for a Nobel prize in Literature, for his complete oeuvre - and for his unique talent in articulating complex biological ideas.


I don’t know anything about the rumors that accompany the Nobel in Literature, however, don’t sleep on Athol Fugard.  One would think he might be an amazing choice, just having come out with ANOTHER new play this year.  And all of his plays are nothing if not political.  I will be surprised if he doesn’t win in the next few years.  Also, I’m not sure why Roth wouldn’t win either—he seems to be universally hailed as America’s finest novelist, so one would think it’s just a matter of time before he won.  And more than a few of his novels have been political.  Joyce Carol Oates is an interesting thought, since she doesn’t just write one thing—there are volumes of essays and reviews in addition to her prodigious fiction output.  I think she needs one more truly GREAT novel before they give it to her, though.  Do largely nonfiction writers EVER get this award?  Finally, how about the Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse?  He’s pretty young but he’s pretty accomplished already and seen as one of the world’s best contemporary playwrights.


My favorite would be American poet Rita Dove, the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate. I’m surprised her name hasn’t come up yet in all the discussions I googled—probably because of the same ignorance that I would have displayed myself a mere week ago, before I attended her spectacular reading at Smith College (Sylvia Plath’s alma mater) last Tuesday, and hadn’t Smith’s Afro-Am lit professor Kevin Quashie, in his brilliant introduction, proclaimed that he expected Rita Dove to win the Nobel Prize someday.
So: Impressed beyond words by her reading, I’ve immersed myself in her work over the past five days, from her first book (“The Yellow House on the Corner,” 1980) via her third, the Pulitzer winner “Thomas and Beulah,” to the most recent, “Sonata Mulattica” (2009), and most everything in-between, plus her stunning verse drama “The Darker Face of the Earth.” While nearly all her poems, and her verse drama, are clearly among the best American writing of the past decades and proof that not all contemporary American poetry is insular, “Sonata Mulattica” is a singular achievement, as close to a novel as poetry can get, and in a language of a condensed timeless beauty that prose, by its very nature, can never achieve. It is world literature at its best.
I’ve been contemplating why Rita Dove, although certainly recognized (and, her website says, also translated into a number of languages), has not been mentioned at least as an against-the-odds contender for the Nobel Prize, despite her wide recognition among American poetry aficionados. She seems to fulfill all the “requirements” many people are asking for: She’s a poet, she’s American… (Not only that, she’s African-American—but maybe that enables some people to cubbyhole her out of sight.) May I point out that, by my count at least (please correct me if I’m wrong), no American poet has ever been graced with the Nobel Prize for Literature? In my estimate, and after reading nearly her entire oevre to date, she’d be the perfect First.


Agota Kristof


Please no Philip Roth… he just seems so parochial and even close minded to me. Roth reminds me of the overbearing discussions I have with family at Passover ; their shrill, latent complaints of the struggle against anti-semitism in the World and Israel’s proud fight against the pure evil of Palestinians. Sure, these are my own problematic associations with the character and politics of the American jew—which many say is self-hating, albeit is actually progressive because I don’t want anyone killing anyone. What does this have to do with Roth? Well, I always feel like his pathos relies on this caricature, and I don’t think it is flattering. So, personally, Roth to me does seem to present a World view that is endearing and humanistic enough to be endoresed by the Nobel body.

Ko Un, Adonis, indeed.

Americans: Pynchon, Powers, Vollmann, Auster, Wallace, Delillo, Johnson—or what about a dead guy like Raymond Chandler, that would be awesomelishish—but I don’t see any of them winning. Murakami, no, Rushdie would be cool, but no. William Trevor, I highly doubt. I have no idea.

A non-fiction writer would be a phenomenal achievement. Yet again, doubtful. Can a philosopher win?

Cormac McCarthy would rock my World.


1. If the choice is political, then Palestinian writer, Mourid Barghouti

2. If the choice is literary, I would root for Milan Kundera

3. If the choice is political/literary, then Ngugi Wa Thoing’o

And certainly, Umberto Eco.


Adonis writes NOT books of poetry but TABLETS OF WONDER. His language not only speaks to the whole world but, more importatnly, it is a language full of surprises, fireworks, and downright magic.

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus