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.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

In U.S. first, drug company faces criminal charges for distributing opioids

It marks a major shift in the government's battle against the opioid crisis.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The nation's sixth-largest drug distributor is facing criminal charges related to failing to report suspicious drug orders, among other things.
  • It marks the first time a drug company has faced criminal charges for distributing opioids.
  • Since 1997, nearly 222,000 Americans have died from prescription opioids, partly thanks to unethical doctors who abuse the system.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less

Calling out Cersei Lannister: Elizabeth Warren reviews Game of Thrones

The real Game of Thrones might be who best leverages the hit HBO show to shape political narratives.

Photo credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that Game of Thrones is primarily about women in her review of the wildly popular HBO show.
  • Warren also touches on other parallels between the show and our modern world, such as inequality, political favoritism of the elite, and the dire impact of different leadership styles on the lives of the people.
  • Her review serves as another example of using Game of Thrones as a political analogy and a tool for framing political narratives.
Keep reading Show less