Nobel Literature Prize: controversy, fame and flops

Secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, Thomas Perlmann, right, announces the winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, as he presents to the media the work on the circadian rhythm, during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on October 2, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 03 October 2017

Nobel Literature Prize: controversy, fame and flops

PARIS: Ahead of the announcement Thursday of this year’s Nobel Literature Prize laureate, here is a look at some of the controversies down the years since the prestigious title was first awarded in 1901.
The 1964 laureate French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, whose political philosophy was partly based on the criticism of institutions, was the first writer to refuse the prize. He wrote that he “always declined official honors.”
Other winners raised eyebrows because they were members of the Nobel Academy that chooses the laureates. They include the little-known Swedish joint-winners Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, who in 1974 beat out Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov.
There was an uproar in 1989, on the sidelines of the prize, when jurors resigned in fury that the Academy had not publicly backed British author Salman Rushdie, subject of a death sentence by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
Over the past 20 years two laureates have particularly divided opinion: Dario Fo, the Italian playwright and actor who was described as a “jester” by the Academy in 1997; and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016 who was silent for weeks after he was announced as the winner and then snubbed a ceremony to receive the prize.
The Nobel Academy has recognized writers of repute like Americans William Faulkner (1949), Ernest Hemingway (1954) and John Steinbeck (1962) and France’s Andre Gide (1947) and Albert Camus (1957).
Other big-name winners are Rudyard Kipling (1907), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982).
However many prestigious names in literature have not been recognized with a Nobel such as Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Paul Valery, Henry James and Virginia Woolf.
While some obvious candidates fell through the cracks, the Academy has been criticized for rewarding obscure writers who are not widely read outside their own countries: Iceland’s Halldor Laxness (1955), Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1931), Odysseus Elytis (1979) and Jaroslav Seifert (1984).
There have been 14 female laureates, only six between 1901 and 1990.
From 1901 to 1985 only eight laureates were chosen from outside Europe and the United States.
India has only one laureate in Rabindranath Tagore in 1913, as does the Arab world with Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz receiving the award in 1988.
One reason may be that it was previously difficult for the Nobel juries to judge non-European literature as translations were rare and information less accessible before the Internet.
In 1986 Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka became the first African to be recognized. The first Chinese author was Gao Xingjian in 2000 and in 2006 Orhan Pamuk became the first Turkish writer on the list.
The Nobel institution defends an “idealist” policy, according to the will of founder Alfred Nobel.
In this vein, the Academy has often backed those in exile, dissidents, opposition leaders and authors who are banned from publishing in their own countries.
These include Guatemala’s Miguel Angel Asturias in 1967 and Pablo Neruda from Chile in 1971.
And during the Cold War, several choices were not made purely literary grounds such as Poland’s Czeslaw Milosz (1980) and Jaroslav Seifert of the former Czechoslovakia (1984).
Most famously, in 1970, Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was forced to decline the prize, fearing that he would not be able to return to his country should he travel to receive it. He finally accepted the award four years later.


Keepers, animals keep each other company at Cairo’s shuttered zoo

Updated 03 April 2020

Keepers, animals keep each other company at Cairo’s shuttered zoo

  • The zoo in Giza, across the Nile from central Cairo, is one of the few green spaces in the usually bustling city of 23 million and is often crammed with families
  • Egypt, like other countries, is trying to curb the spread of coronavirus cases by restricting people’s movements

CAIRO: The chimpanzees, lions and hippos of Cairo’s zoo are getting a rare spell of peace and quiet alone with their keepers as a closure caused by the coronavirus outbreak keeps the public away.
The zoo in Giza, across the Nile from central Cairo, is one of the few green spaces in the usually bustling city of 23 million and is often crammed with families seeking diversion from the grind of daily life.
Now keepers do their rounds at the zoo along deserted pathways, feeding animals apples and bananas through the railings of their cages and bringing fresh hay to their enclosures.
Veteran keeper Mohamed Aly holds hands with 12-year-old chimpanzee Jolia in a gesture of friendship, while noting that keepers are careful about cleaning hands between rounds.
“I’ve been here about 25 years,” he said. “(I’ve spent) my whole life with them, they may not speak but they feel everything, and of course all of them are looking for people to play with.”
Egypt, like other countries, is trying to curb the spread of coronavirus cases by restricting people’s movements. It has imposed a night curfew and shut schools, mosques and tourist sites including the pyramids. It has so far confirmed more than 850 cases of the virus, including more than 50 deaths.
The zoo, which has been closed along with others in Egypt since March 18, is sprayed with disinfectant twice a week.

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