Germany's Mueller Wins Literature Nobel

The Nobel Prize for literature has been awarded to Romanian-born German writer Herta Mueller. The Nobel committee said "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, [her work] depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the time of year when we hear about literary awards. On Tuesday, British author Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize for her novel "Wolf Hall." Next week, we'll find out the nominees for the National Book Awards. And today we hear who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Nobel is considered the biggest prize of all. It carries a big monetary award. In fact, last year's winner got more than a million bucks. Prize winners also tend to make a lot more money from book sales.

NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY: At this time of year there's endless speculation in literary circles about who might win the Nobel Prize. Truth be told, it's almost impossible to predict. But one thing about the prize is predictable: customers will start looking for the winner's books in their favorite bookstores.

Mr. MITCHELL KAPLAN (Owner, Books and Books): It's like all of a sudden people are scrambling to get whatever it is we might have.

NEARY: Mitchell Kaplan is the owner of Books and Books in Miami. Kaplan says as soon the winner is announced, his store starts ordering more books by the winning author. And Kaplan says they even order some writers' books beforehand.

Mr. KAPLAN: Like, there's talk that Amos Oz might be in the lead for this year's prize, so we're already trying to get additional copies of his work in.

NEARY: For publishers like Jonathan Burnham of HarperCollins, winning an award like the Nobel can be a goldmine.

Mr. JONATHAN BURNHAM (Senior Vice President/Publisher of Imprint, HarperCollins): Well, awards are bounty. They, you know, come like manna from heaven.

NEARY: Just this week, the Man Booker Prize went to HarperCollins author Hilary Mantel. And two years ago, another HarperCollins author, Doris Lessing, won the Nobel. Burnham says there was an immediate bounce in sales for Lessing's books.

Mr. BURNHAM: With a writer like Doris Lessing, you already have a devoted readership and she is a known factor for book sellers, so when the prize is announced they understand what's happening, and the machine is much more effective.

NEARY: But in recent years the Nobel committee has been known for giving the award to some authors who are not well known, especially in this country. And when that happens sales don't bounce quite so high.

Jonathan Galassi is the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Mr. JONATHAN GALASSI (President/Publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux): I think it's a spotty thing. If the confluence of the work and the noise that's made by the prize come together right, it can enhance the commercial viability of the author a great deal. But it doesn't do it all the time.

NEARY: On the other hand, some authors have gone from being well-respected writers to literary superstars after winning the Nobel. As an example, Galassi points to Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel in 1988.

Mr. GALASSI: He was an author who was very esteemed in certain circles but not generally known. But when people started reading his books, they found them to be delightful and readable. And he went on to sell a lot of books in our market.

NEARY: And says bookseller Mitchell Kaplan, poets like Seamus Heaney or Derek Walcott often find readers who might never have heard of them if not for the Nobel Prize.

Mr. KAPLAN: People love reading poetry. And I think with poets, you find that this is a way that people can sort of be guided to reading poets. In other words, it's kind of a seal of approval on a poet.

NEARY: Whoever wins - poet, playwright or novelist - famous or obscure, the writer who gets the Nobel may never be quite the same again.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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