The 2011 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 3 through Economics on the 10th; 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). Now it's time to move to Round Two, and resume or join the conversation



I hope Carlos Fuentes gets 2011 Nobel prize for literature.

Joyce Carol Oates is my other candidate!


I like Fuentes but doubt two Latin American men, both of the so-called “boom” generation would win one right after the other. My vote is for Margaret Atwood.


It’s been a long time that a poet won the prize—15 years to be exact. Wislawa Szymborska was the nobel laureate in 1996. I hope the Swedish Academy will honor one of these perennial contenders: Adonis of Syria, Ko Un, Tomas Transtromer.


Carol Ann Duffy if it’s a poet that is due to be awarded…


Mahmoud Darwish died in 2008. :)


It does seem high time for a poet to take this recognition. But I’ve always felt that the Nobel-winning novelists have a more substantial body of work to relfect on & would be just as happy if another novelist got the honor of this distinction. Ko Un, Adonis, Transtromer all great options for poets. Personally would like to see accolades for either William T. Vollmann, Peter Matthiessen, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy. Joan Didion. Really wish there was more than one American woman writer that I both greatly admired and thought deserving of the Nobel/that really met the criteria Alfred Nobel specified in his will. Others I think are truly deserving: Margaret Atwood, Ismail Kadare, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.


Ngugi Wa Thiongó deserves…well so does Margaret Atwood, oh and Cormac McCarthy…


If a poet, then Dürs Grünbein. Cormac McCarthy would be really worthy—OK, “worthy” is not the right word for a prize that left out Tolstoy, Rilke, Hofmannsthal, and others. But I’m looking to quality. Ismail Kadare, Peter Esterhazy (I don’t know where the diacritical mark goes in his name), and I’ll go to my grave advocating for Gail Godwin, as fine a novelist as there is. Coulda shoulda woulda been Patrick Leigh Fermor, but he died recently. And on the flip side, I can’t believe people seriously would for a second consider Bob Dylan. Why oh why?


Nuruddin Farah ? Renaud Camus ?


Dürs Grünbein is great but he’s still “relatively” young. I think he doesn’t mind waiting for few more years. :) I wish the medal will be given to one of the older lot—there are plenty of them and yet they might suddenly expire anytime soon. The tragedy of the Nobel Prize is that it cannot be given posthumously.


Ah, Robert Bly—talking about poets from the other side of the Atlantic, there are many American heavy-weights whom the Nobel should seriously consider. Apart from Robert Bly, there’s Charles Simic or M.S. Merwin or Mark Strand or Mary Oliver.

And if there’s a literary critic that deserves to win the Nobel, that would be Harold Bloom.


I don’t fully resonate to the choices made in number 15. American poet—none of the above, and thank God nobody said Ashbery. But how about Rita Dove? And yes, I really can agree about Bloom. In that category should have been Edward Said of late memory. Number 14—who are some of the older lot? I’ve got lacunae all over.


As far as I know, Transtromer and Adonis of Syria are now in their 80s. Ko Un will join the club in a couple of years. Dürs Grünbein is still in his 40s, right?


Grünbein is still in his 40s; you’re right. As for the oldsters, what about Friederike Mayröcker? I’m not sure I’ve ever been completely won over by what she does, but I have more than a passing suspicion that it’s my limitation, not hers. I have also thought of Ilse Aichinger with something close to artistic and ethical veneration, but from what I hear, she’s not only physically very frail but irreversibly lost deep, deep in a world of her own. Back to novelists, and still contemplating Austrians, I think Alois Brandstetter or Christoph Ransmayr would be fine candidates. And there’s Friedrich Achleitner, the one remaining active member of the Vienna Group. I’ve translated and written about Gert Jonke, and he was revered and beloved by everybody. What a wonderful writer and good man, a more frequent combination that people might think. But this isn’t the place for necrologies.


Lydia Davis; Jim Harrison; Chang-rae Lee


Dylan, he deserves it!


Amos Oz


No, no, a thousand times no. Dylan is hardly even a coherent writer, let alone one who for any reason at all deserves the Nobel Prize. It’s too crazy-making to read actual encomia on a barely second-rate song lyricist who’s done nothing but dabble. Whatever literature is, Dylan is light years away from it. I think Dolly Parton has about ten thousand times more authenticity.


Mexican poet Homero Aridjis.


Les Murray, Australian poet.


Adrienne Rich


Antonio Lobo Antunes


Hasan Ali Toptas of Turkey


I suppose Kazuo Ishiguro is still rather young for the Nobel Prize. But some day.


Philip Roth for his novels depicting the male dilemna and his “american ” novels depicting the american experience-see Human Stain.

also for his literary criticism and his Writers From The Other Europe series.


It doesn’t get a lot better than “American Pastoral” or “The Plot against America.”


Antonio Tambucchi!!!!!!!!!!!!! By far!


Tabucchi…absolutely not! Let’s hope for Adonis, António Lobo Antunes and Aldo Busi (how dreamer of me…)


BEI DAO, Chinese poet


I really hope that Ngugi Wa Thiongó would win this year. But I also think that the Guarani writer Nestor Amarilla could be a wild card for the accademy. I would not be surprised although it will be a total shocker for the rest of the world.


My favourites to win: Thomas Pynchon or Edward Albee.
Classic bets: Milan Kundera, Umberto Eco or Ko Un.
The WOW choices: Maya Angelou, Assia Djebar or Peter Nadas.
The NO-NO choices: Bob Dylan or Paulo Coelho.
Most likely to win: Adonis or Ngugi wa Thiong’o.


Dylan’s name appeared in many Internet debates on the Nobel Prize of Literature almost every year in the past decade. Perhaps that alone already demonstrates his significant influence. Literature is the art of writing. So, what is good literature? Hard to define. One man’s meat could be another’s poison. If the Nobel Prize was established in the Stone Age, perhaps the prize winner would be a caveman with some excellent scripts on a cave wall. Likewise, in the early days when there was no TV or movie, naturally the Nobel Prize mostly went to poets and novel writers. The world is changing every day, so as the ways we see things when we realize more. We saw human’s change for better life from the stone age to the iron age, from the discovery of the use of fire to the industrial revolution and more recently the IT revolution, we saw the medical discoveries from Penicillin to now genetic engineering, in physics we saw the break-throughs from Newton’s gravitation theory to Albert Einstein’s laws of relativity and to the recent debates on the M-theory. Human just shouldn’t just live in the past. I am just a roadwork engineer doing road digging work everyday thus I am perhaps not “civilised” enough to comment on literature. I do not intend to offend any others who have their personal enlightening views which I respect also. What I like to express is just my personal perspective from the capacity of a guy who like to escape from my stressful practical life by reading literatures, and I have to confess that I never liked literature until influenced by Dylan’s writing three decades ago. Yes, we can follow our predecessors’ footsteps and judge whether the value of a piece of writing by its rhetoric, rhyme, grammar, metaphor, etc., but should we just abide by rules, if there is any. What is good literature, my personal view is that it is that kind of writing that could influence others deep down in their hearts with a touching feeling, it is something that stimulates others to put aside their daily burdens and look at things from a mental angle, it is something that inspires readers to reflect and think forward, it is something that encourages us to think of the good sides of human nature instead of hatred, it is something that stimulates others in writing and it is something which should not be judged with any financial, racial or political (too usual these days) considerations. When two masterpieces are really to be compared for their literature value, the extent of influence (in time, geographic and culture dimensions) counts! A recognition is a recognition and a tribute is a tribute, the Nobel Prize committee should not consider whether the writer needs it or not.

Back to Dylan. The other day when I was in a bookstore I saw these two young kids tracing his albums and books, and I heard their chat on their great impression on Dylan’s lyrics and how they stimulated their interests in their reading and writing. Gee, these days most of these 16/17 years old kids are listening to the pop music or playing with their I-pad.

For those who lives in the ivory tower of traditional literature elitism, perhaps they should take a look on how many billions people like Dylan’s writings, how his songs and lyrics have influenced others for generations. Give the old man the prize he deserves to pay tribute to him before it is too late. A Daniel comes to judgement.


How does rejecting the mediocrity, the predictability, the modishness that is Bob Dylan automatically relegate one to “the ivory tower of traditional literature elitism,” as if tradition and elitism—both very slippery terms—were coextensive or synonymous? I’m a teacher and am delighted to hear about those kids responding to Dylan, but they could and should do better. If influence alone were the criterion, you’d have to include lots of “literature” that’s bad, bad juju. Start with “Mein Kampf.” That was influential; that had millions of young kids talking, emulating, and admiring. No, sorry—Dylan may be OK, but not on the basis of anything I just read.

Try this, too: when someone poo-poohed Alexander Pope in his presence, Doctor Johnson proposed that the person advance a definition of a great poet that would include all the acknowledged ones (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, e.g.) but would exclude Pope, whereupon Johnson said he would take the conversation further. Flip that: how about a definition that would include acknowledged moderns (gets dicey) but that would also include Dylan. He doesn’t survive for a nanosecond against a Rita Dove, just to name one.

Gilbert Highet said decades ago that poetry is better than pinball. He didn’t mean pinball isn’t fun, amusing, demonstrative of skill. But he meant to indicate a rank order of qualities. Call me elitist, but I’m on with Highet. Dylan never did cut it, does not now cut it, and never will cut it.


Even though I am a big supporter of American writers, I have to go with two writers from countries I don’t have any connection to (okay, one of them has taught in the United States for many years, but I still think of him as English).

My vote for a writer of fiction is the Filipino writer F. Sionil Jose.  His Rosales Saga is a masterpiece.  It is a deep exploration of the national character of the Philippines over the last century, and each book is written in a different style appropriate to the themes and period of time it covers.  How many other writers have actually succeeded in writing the national epic of their country? 

If an English language poet wins (I just don’t feel qualified to assess the quality of poetry in other languages), it has to be Geoffrey Hill.  There are many other fine poets writing in English, but I don’t think anyone comes close to his inventiveness of language and dept of thought and (sometimes) emotion.


Thank you, John, number 40. Yes, I am in awe of Hill and have been for many years. I wasn’t sure if he was still alive. It should be him, and it won’t be. Even greater thanks for the other mention. I’ve never heard of F. Sionil Jose and the Rosales saga, but the way you describe it—and your endorsement of Hill—make me sense I’m in for something great.

Hermann Broch and “The Sleepwalkers” come to mind; a trilogy each part of which is written in the prevalent literary style of novels from the period in which it takes place—1888, 1903, and 1918. Broch published in 1932. This trilogy doesn’t tell the whole story of the era, but it traces the passivity of the Germans in the light of emerging authoritarianism shading into totalitarianism while suggesting that complicity in tyranny isn’t just a German trait.

Thanks again; I’m going right onto Amazon!


Here’s a vote for Harlan Ellison.  Few writers have filled their fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, etc., with as much passion and comittment to creating Art (with a capital “A”) as this guy.  His focus mainly on short stories—and short-shorts, in later years—and the output seen there often comes as close to poetry as possible (even some of his essays sound like poetry).  Check out these lines from the little-seen story/poem, “Darkness Falls On the River”, (which can be found in the equally overlooked, MIND FIELDS):“My thoughts seem clustered closely, creatures huddled against the unknowable terror.  The blood that runs i my veins moves more slowly now.  There are snags and clost that block the arterial passages.  The sun of my heart casts light fitfully.  Muscles ache. Bones are brittle. My eyes grow foggy with skittering shapes, the notices sent to my sight that darkness falls on the river of light.”

In my book, that’s both powerful and accessable; entertaining and enlightening.  Straight from the pen of America’s version of Borges.


Apologies (to Ellison, and to anyone who read the above entry first) for the typos above.  HERE is the corrected quote from his story “Darkness Falls On the River”:

“My thoughts seem clustered closely, creatures huddled against the unknowable terror.  The blood that runs in my veins moves more slowly now.  There are snags and clots that block the arterial passages.  The sun of my heart casts light fitfully.  Muscles ache. Bones are brittle. My eyes grow foggy with skittering shapes, the notices sent to my sight that darkness falls on the river of light.” (1993, from the book, MIND FIELDS by Harlan Ellison)


Josef Skvorecky, (The Engineer of Human Souls)Czech/Canada or US DeLillo or Pynchon.


Washington Cucurto


I’d like it to go to Alice Munro, a master of short story telling, and too old to wait many more years…


Leonard Cohen - already received the Glenn Gould award and the leading Spanish literary award this year.


I am not a usual visitor of WWB. It is great that when I came back today I saw some responses to my previous views posted.

If my saying of traditional literature elitism offended anyone I apologise. If one checked and thought that he/she found a seat there I apologise too.

Who is entitled to be an elitist in mankind? One of the essences I believe is that he/she could see the elite of those tagged mediocrity? No one in this world is mediocrity. Not a hobo, not a prisoner, not an illiterate.

Yes, influence alone should not be the only attribute, but influence definitely is a major one to count with other qualifying factors. I’m a literature lover of perhaps kintergarden level and my personal views on the qualifying factors for good literature might not sound right to some professors in art, and for those agreed to some extent my saying, some may disagree that Dylan’s writings possess such qualities, but he/she cannot deny that many others in this world, perhaps millions or even billions in all the past and recent generations feel that, including me, a humble engineer who hated reading literature in the past.

I am not qualified to advocate the change of rules, if any, in assessing literature art, but if only poets, novelists and playwrights, etc. are entitled to the award, then perhaps I should tell this story. A couple of weeks ago I was driving with my 9 years old son with my CD playing Bob’s Who Killed Davey Moore. I never saw this naughty kid so focused in listening a song and when finished he asked me , “dad, this song sounds like a poem, it’s great, I like this guy, what’s his name?”. Yes, it and many of Bob’s masterpieces are poems. You can say that mediocrities like me and my son have no right to say. Then hear what academics like Professor Gordon Ball of Lexington, Professor Christopher Ricks of Oxford and American Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg said. (

Think about this too – the award to which candidate would attract the world’s attention in literature more, and the award to whom would pull in many more lovers in literature? Words Without Borders is a great site and thanks to it, literature lovers have a forum to openly share their views. When the 18 life time members of the Swedish Academy made their decision this month, they should consider Literature Without Borders – no borders in ethnic, no borders in nation, no borders in culture, no borders in age and gender………and…... NO BORDERS IN LITERATURE RULES AND FORMAT.


I second some of the above suggestions: Tomas Transtömer or Philip Roth or Homero Aridjis!  (Or Yves Bonnefoy).


Yehey! It’s Transtromer!


Dear Adonis, #50, or anyone else!

What English (or maybe German) translations of Transtromer can you recommend? My Swedish is laughably scant, and I’d like to read him. Any thoughts? And what do people think of him and his receiving the award? Except for Selma Lagerlof, it seems as if all the Swedish laurates through the years have been more default choices than enthusiastically endorsed and meritorious awardees. This is not a disparagement; I just don’t know! And members of the Swedish Academy themselves poo-poohed Lagerlof as “safe,” “maternal,” unexciting. So I’d appreciate hearing what others have to say.

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