Nobel Academy Silent on Literature Prize

The Swedish Academy is not yet ready to name a winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, traditionally announced on the first or second Thursday of October. The delay has created speculation that Academy members are embroiled in a fierce debate over this year's laureate.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Swedish Academy will not announce the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in literature this morning. The award is traditionally announced on the first or second Thursday of October. The academy will announce exactly when it will announce the winner next Tuesday. This has led to speculation that the members of the academy are embroiled in a fierce debate over this year's Nobel literature laureate. Bookies in the United Kingdom have placed odds on a Syrian poet known as Adonis and the American writer Joyce Carol Oates. NPR's Neda Ulaby isn't picking any winners, but she does report that the idea a Nobel laureate represents a national literature may be changing.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

Most of the recent Nobel literature winners are not exactly beloved by their own governments. Many have been banned or suppressed. Others are just disliked. Last year's winner, Elfriede Jelinek, is so critical of Austrian culture, she's been called that country's best-hated writer. Stephen Owen chairs the Comparative Literature Department at Harvard University. He points to 2000 as a year when the honor was dismissed back home.

Mr. STEPHEN OWEN (Harvard University): In China, Gao Xingjian won it. They said, `It's a Swedish prize,' and it is in some degree. It confers immense national prestige, but it's prestige that's achieved by rules that the individual countries didn't create, and often, you know, by judgments that they didn't make.

ULABY: Owen says more and more, the Nobel Prize does not reflect a national literature.

Mr. OWEN: Globalization is real. The age of sort of national culture, I think, is really being profoundly changed.

ULABY: Owen says authors become known through international awards and illustrious guest lectureships at universities worldwide, and they develop forceful intellectual followings in Europe.

Mr. OWEN: There are many people who are basically brokers who are reading works in a language; they want their country to win the Nobel Prize. They have something translated, and it's presented to the committee.

ULABY: And what vaults them to the top, Stephen Owen believes, is that their literature translates well to the West.

Mr. OWEN: The Nobel Prize is essentially a prize for literature in translation.

ULABY: Owen says this is not necessarily a bad thing. Once a Nobel winner in literature is announced, his or her work is rushed into translation in hundreds of countries. But that does not necessarily mean it will be widely read. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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