Former Nobel Laureates React To Winning Literature Prize The 109th Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded Thursday morning. NPR has a look at past winners and their reactions to winning.

Former Nobel Laureates React To Winning Literature Prize

Former Nobel Laureates React To Winning Literature Prize

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The 109th Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded Thursday morning. The academy is known for its cloak-and-dagger methods to prevent leaks about its choice. NPR has a look at past winners and their reactions to winning.


In Stockholm tomorrow, the Swedish Academy will announce the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's later than usual because the judging schedule was different this year. So while waiting to find out who won, NPR's Lynn Neary decided to take a listen to what some past winners had to say when they received the prize.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Doris Lessing learned she had won the Literature Prize in 2007 from journalists who accosted her as she was getting out of a cab in front of her house. Lessing was famously irreverent when reporters pressed for her reaction.


DORIS LESSING: Well, I'm trying to think of something very suitable to say. What do you think I should say? Look; you tell me what to say, and I'll say it.

NEARY: Fortunately the prizes are not awarded until December, which gives the laureates much needed time to gather their thoughts. The awards dinner is a glittering affair, and in 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa used the occasion to tell a story about a character very much like himself who had spent his life immersed in the world of fiction but had never had any trouble separating fantasy from reality.


MARIO VARGAS LLOSA: Until one day in the wee hours of the morning, the protagonist of my story received a mysterious call in which a gentleman with a name that defied all pronunciation announced to him that he had won a prize.

NEARY: Last year the tone was more serious when Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus won the prize. Speaking through a translator, she used her moment in the spotlight to focus attention on the struggles of her homeland, which is ruled by an authoritarian regime.


SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH: (Through interpreter) Freedom is not an instantaneous holiday as we once dreamed. It is a road, a long road. We know this now.

NEARY: In the days leading up to the awards ceremony, the Nobel laureates give a speech about the craft they love. Here's 1949 award winner William Faulkner just a few years after the destruction of World War II.


WILLIAM LASSETER: I believe that man will not merely endure. He will prevail. He is immortal not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's duty is to write about these things.

NEARY: In 1962, John Steinbeck spoke of writing as a muscular endeavor.


JOHN STEINBECK: Literature was not promulgated by a pale, emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches, nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low-calorie despair. Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

NEARY: And Toni Morrison in 1993 described both the limits and the possibilities of language.

TONI MORRISON: Language can never pin down slavery, genocide, war, nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity is in its reach toward the ineffable.

NEARY: Soon a new Nobel winner will be hearing some unexpected news and will begin the process of deciding what to say to a waiting world. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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Correction Nov. 1, 2016

In this story we incorrectly identify the voice in the William Faulkner acceptance speech as Faulkner himself. It was actually a performance of the speech by William Lasseter.