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Nobel Prize in Literature 2022: A look at past 10 awardees and their work


In Ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honour – both in athletic competitions and in poetic meets.

Since 1901, the Swedish Academy honours an author with in from any country who has, in the words of the will of industrialist Alfred Nobel, “in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction”.

This year, the prize was awarded to French writer Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”.

Her work combines historic and individual experiences. Ernaux’s 2008 historical memoir Les Années (The Years), very well received by French critics, is considered by many to be the 82-year-old’s magnum opus.

With her, Nobel has now 17 women among its 119 laureates.

Besides Ernaux, other possible contenders in 2022 were literary giants from around the world: Indian-born Salman Rushdie, Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, Norway’s Jon Fosse, and Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid.

In 2021, the prize went to the Tanzanian-born Abdulrazak Gurnah. UK-based Gurnah was only the sixth Nobel laureate born in Africa. Before him, the prize has long faced criticism that it is too focused on European and North American .

In 2018, the award was postponed after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, which names the Nobel committee, and sparked an exodus of members.

There have been two instances when the award was declined since its inception. The authors were Boris Pasternak in 1958 and Jean Paul Sartre in 1964. While Pasternak was asked by the Soviet Union to turn down the award, Satre declined the prize because he had consistently declined all official honours.

Here are the names of awardees in past 10 years:

2021: Abdulrazak Gurnah

Gurnah was awarded the for literature in October last year for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.

His novels include Paradise (1994), which was shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prize; Desertion (2005); and By the Sea (2001), which was longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

2020: Louise Glück

The 2020 Nobel Laureate in Literature, poet Louise Glück, has written both poetry and essays about poetry. Since her debut in 1968, she has published twelve collections of poetry.

She is often described as an autobiographical poet; her work is known for its emotional intensity and for frequently drawing on mythology or nature imagery to meditate on personal experiences and modern life.

2019: Peter Handke

The in Literature 2019 was awarded to Peter Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”.

The decision of the Nobel Committee to award Handke a Nobel Prize in literature in 2019 was denounced internationally by a variety of public and academic intellectuals, and journalists. Criticism focuses on the writer’s view on the breakup of Yugoslavia and Yugoslav Wars, which has been described as pro-Serbian, his support of the late Slobodan Milosevic, and Bosnian genocide denial.

2018: Olga Tokarczuk

Polish writer and activist, Olga Tokarczuk, won the prize “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”.

She is one of the most critically acclaimed and successful authors of her generation in the country. Her works include Primeval and Other Times, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, and The of Jacob.

2017: Kazuo Ishiguro

In its 2017 citation, the Swedish Academy described Kazuo Ishiguro as a writer “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

The British author has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize four times, winning the prize in 1989 for his novel The Remains of the Day, which was adapted into a film of the same name in 1993.

2016: Bob Dylan

The American-songwriter was awarded “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. Dylan has been a major figure in popular culture during a career spanning more than 60 years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin‘” became anthems for the civil rights and antiwar movements.

2015: Svetlana Alexievich

Belarusian investigative journalist, essayist and oral historian, Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.

Her were not published by Belarusian state-owned publishing houses after 1993, while private publishers in Belarus have only published two of her books: Chernobyl Prayer in 1999 and Second-hand Time in 2013, both translated into Belarusian. As a result, Alexievich has been better known in the rest of the world than in Belarus.

2014: Patrick Modiano

In more than 40 books, Modiano used his fascination with the human experience of World War II in to examine individual and collective identities, responsibilities, loyalties, memory, and loss. Because of his obsession with the past, he was sometimes compared to Marcel Proust.

The French author was awarded the Nobel “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.

2013: Alice Munro

Alice Munro is a Canadian short story writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, for being the “master of the contemporary short story”.

Her work is described as revolutionising the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backward in time. Munro’s highly acclaimed first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968) won the Governor General’s Award, then Canada’s highest literary prize.

2012: Mo Yan

Chinese author Mo Yan, who left school for a life working the fields at the age of 12, was the first Chinese citizen ever to win the Nobel prize in literature, praised by the Swedish Academy for merging “folk tales, history and the contemporary” with “hallucinatory realism”.

He is best known to Western readers for his 1986 novel Red Sorghum, the first two parts of which were adapted as the Golden Bear-winning film Red Sorghum.


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