So How Does a Person Win a Nobel Prize in Literature?

How do you win a Nobel Prize in Literature? First you must get nominated, then it gets hard.

In October 2016, Bob Dylan became the first western songwriter to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, with the committee citing his “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. Joining such illustrious names as Bertrand Russell, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemingway as a laureate. He was seen as an outside bet for years by those who claimed to know, and now he can claim to have his lyrics regarded as art by the highest authority.

But how? How did he win a Nobel Prize? 

Each Nobel prize has an organization in charge of giving it out, for the prize in literature it is the Swedish Academy. Every year the Academy sends out requests for nominations to thousands of individuals. These include former winners, members of the academy, literature professors from around the world, and the leaders of writers organizations. These nominations are reduced from hundreds to five in two months, and then several months are spent debating the finalist’s merits. A person can only win if they are a finalist at least once before.  

Bob Dylan was able to win by having each one of those requirements met, and then being seen as a better choice than the other finalists; which is no small task. This has not gone without controversy, however. French writer Pierre Assouline suggests that giving Dylan the prize is “contemptuous of writers”. Scottish author Irvine Welsh dismissed it as a nostalgia award by old hippies.  

The literature prize is no stranger to controversy. The tastes of the original committee head lead to the rejection of such authors as Tolstoy and Mark Twain in favor of people few have either read or heard of. Every Noble prize has had controversy, failed to give awards to deserving individuals, or simply given ones to people who didn’t deserve one, but the literature award perhaps suffered the most from this in the early years.

Famously, Jean Paul-Sartre refused to accept his award on the grounds that he rejected all awards. Boris Pasternak, the author of Dr. Zhivago, was forced to refuse his prize by the Soviet government. It is impossible to be nominated when dead, so authors like Franz Kafka were never considered.

Bob Dylan has become the first American in two decades to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and only the second songwriter to win the prize at all. This is no small feat, but he will also join the list of controversial winners whose merits we will debate for some time.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Why 'upgrading' humanity is a transhumanist myth

Upload your mind? Here's a reality check on the Singularity.

  • Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we're nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source.
  • Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human.
  • Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?
Keep reading Show less