The Nobel Prize for Literature is being announced later than usual this year, so while we wait for the jury’s verdict, we’d remind the selection committee of some of the glaring omissions they’ve made in past.
The Nobel Prize for Literature, according to founder Alfred Nobel, should only be awarded to “idealistic” works; yet it somehow seems biased against American writers (the last author to win was Toni Morrison in 1993) and genre-writers (no sci-fi writer has won the award so far, for example). Of course, we can’t consider greats like Shakespeare, because the prize didn’t exist at the time. Even then, the fact that the following writers have never won the award is surprising given their influence on popular culture and literature.
A prolific writer who wrote over 20 novels and 12 books filled with delectable short stories, Updike was also a prominent critic who influenced how Americans thought about topics like women, religion, children, marriage and life until he died in 2009. The Nobel Prize curse afflicting American writers seems to have struck Updike, who was known for his graphic descriptions of sexually-charged characters. Ultimately, Updike had to be happy with two Pulitzers and a clutch of other awards.
Must-read works: The Rabbit Series, The Coup, The Scarlet Letter Trilogy
Frost has to be one of the best known poets of the 20th century. The American, who was known for incorporating rural themes in his writings, was popular in his lifetime and won many prizes for his wizardry with words. The one major award missing from his oeuvre is – you guessed it – the Nobel Prize for Literature. Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize four times and being named America’s Poet Laureate, Frost always got the cold shoulder when it came to the Nobel Prize – the award his biographers say he was obsessed with winning.
Must-read works: A Boy’s Will, North of Boston
That James Joyce is a literature great is a given. The Irish author is credited with making the ‘stream of consciousness’ style famous and his many influential works continue to find admirers to this day. His works have influenced writers like Samuel Beckett, Salman Rushdie and Jorge Luis Borges among others and in 1999, Time magazine named Joyce in its list of 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. That such a man of words never won a Nobel Prize for Literature seems more like a failure of the prize than the man himself.
Must-read books: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Dubliners
Kafka’s unique style of writing, and the huge impact of his two books The Metamorphosis and The Trial alone should have been reason enough for him to bag the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not to mention that an esteemed prize would have gone a long way in balancing out the tragedy that was his personal life – what with growing up with an abusive father, questioning his sexual prowess and ultimately dying of starvation. Why Kafka, whose name has turned into an adjective that describes the plight of a common man stuck in bureaucratic maze, never won the prize is worthy material of a Kafkaesque book in itself!
Must-read books: The Metamorphosis, The Trial
Jorge Luis Borges
The Argentine writer’s omission from the list of winners of the prize is definitely mysterious considering the fact that he began the trend of magic realism that won his South American contemporaries such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa the Nobel. Nevertheless, Borges is still considered one of the greatest writers of the last century, and his commitment to writing even after losing his eyesight at 55 to a hereditary condition, makes him a worthy example for literature lovers even today.
Must-read books: Fictions, The Aleph
Like such literary greats as Ismat Chughtai, Munshi Premchand and many other influential Indian writers who never got much recognition outside the sub-continent, the omission of RK Narayan from the Nobel Prize for Literature still rankles. At the height of British rule and in the years thereafter, Narayan’s simple stories set in the fictional town of Malgudi found a fan in influential writer Graham Greene. Narayan’s career spanned six decades and his work ended up on film in Dev Anand’s Guide. He travelled extensively thereafter and introduced Indian writing to the West. He won fans all over – except at the Nobel committee it seems.
Must-read books: Swami and Friends, The Guide, Malgudi Days
The good thing is that the Japanese author could still win the Nobel Prize this year. We hope the Nobel committee gives the author of such works as Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood the award he richly deserves. Indeed, Murakami’s books have created a flutter across the world and given his words a halo by oft being quoted on social media. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that youth who read his books (often about loneliness and lost love) quote his lines. His characters and books have had such a significant impact that he has been called the “world’s greatest living novelist” by The Guardian.
Must-read books: Kafka on the Shore, A Wild Sheer Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84
Image courtesy: Haruki Murakami