Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature

A year or two ago, while procrastinating, I made a list of writers who would have won the Nobel Prize in Literature in an alternate universe where (A) the Swedish Academy makes better decisions and (B) the Nobel Prize is awarded to three writers a year rather than one, as is normal with the science prizes. Where possible, I tried to give it to three writers whose work had something in common, and I made sure that all writers were still alive in the year they received the prize. I excluded cartoonists, filmmakers and musicians, on the theory that in this alternate universe, each of those fields would have a Nobel Prize of its own.* (EDIT: Now that Bob Dylan has won the real Nobel Prize, the ban on musicians no longer applies.) I think this list is more impressive than the list of writers who actually did win the prize, but it has the major flaw of being too U.S.-centric. If anyone is actually reading this, maybe they could suggest other non-English-language writers who should be included. Each author is listed with his/her primary nationality at the time s/he won the award. There are some tricky cases here; for example, Bialik is considered Israel’s national poet but didn’t live there until the end of his life, and Durrell was not officially a British citizen.

The list follows:

1901   Henry James (USA), Leo Tolstoy (RUS), Émile Zola (FRA)

1902   A.E. Housman (GBR), Masaoka Shiki (JPN), Algernon Charles Swinburne (GBR)

1903   Mark Twain (USA), Jules Verne (FRA), H.G. Wells (GBR)

1904   Kate Chopin (USA), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA), Anton Chekhov (RUS)

1905   Henrik Ibsen (NOR), August Strindberg (SWE), George Bernard Shaw (IRL)

1906   Giosuè Carducci (ITA), Giovanni Verga (ITA), Sarah Orne Jewett (USA)

1907   Sholom Aleichem (UKR/USA), I.L. Peretz (POL), Mendele Moykher Sforim (UKR)

1908   Euclides da Cunha (BRA), Rubén Darío (NCA), Joaquim Machado de Assis (BRA)

1909   Liu E (CHN), George Meredith (GBR), John Millington Synge (IRL)

1910   Henry Adams (USA), Jack London (USA), Upton Sinclair (USA)

1911   L. Frank Baum (USA), E. Nesbit (GBR), Beatrix Potter (GBR)

1912   Joseph Conrad (GBR), Arthur Conan Doyle (GBR), Rudyard Kipling (GBR)

1913   Hayyim Nahman Bialik (ISR), Constantine P. Cavafy (EGY/GRE), Georg Trakl (AUT)

1914   Mori Ogai (JPN), Natsume Soseki (JPN), Akiko Yosano (JPN)

1915   Theodore Dreiser (USA), Thomas Hardy (GBR), Edith Wharton (USA)

1916   G.K. Chesterton (GBR), Ford Madox Ford (GBR), E.M. Forster (GBR)

1917   Guillaume Apollinaire (FRA), Paul Valéry (FRA), W.B. Yeats (IRL)

1918   Alexander Blok (RUS), Velimir Khlebnikov (RUS), Vladimir Mayakovsky (RUS)

1919   Willa Cather (USA), D.H. Lawrence (GBR), Katherine Mansfield (NZL)

1920   Benito Pérez Galdós (ESP), Antonio Machado (ESP), Miguel de Unamuno (ESP)

1921   Andrei Bely (RUS), Maxim Gorky (RUS), Yevgeny Zamyatin (RUS)

1922   James Joyce (IRL), Marcel Proust (FRA), Ryunosuke Akutagawa (JPN)

1923   Karel Capek (CZE), Jaroslav Hasek (CZE), Franz Kafka (CZE)

1924   T.S. Eliot (GBR/USA), Ezra Pound (USA), Gertrude Stein (USA)

1925   Stefan George (GER), Hugo von Hofmannsthal (AUT), Rainer Maria Rilke (AUT)

1926   Sean O’Casey (IRL), Luigi Pirandello (ITA), Italo Svevo (ITA)

1927   Muhammad Iqbal (PAK), Rabindranath Tagore (IND/BGL), Premchand (IND)

1928   André Breton (FRA), Paul Éluard (FRA), Tristan Tzara (ROU/FRA)

1929   Nella Larsen (USA), Claude McKay (JAM), Jean Toomer (USA)

1930   Ahmed Shawqi (EGY), Thomas Wolfe (USA), Stefan Zweig (AUT)

1931   Bertolt Brecht (GER), Sigmund Freud (AUT), Karl Kraus (AUT)

1932   Hart Crane (USA), William Carlos Williams (USA), Kenji Miyazawa (JPN)

1933   John Galsworthy (GBR), Attila Jozsef (HUN), Raymond Roussel (FRA)

1934   Mariano Azuela (MEX), César Vallejo (PER), Fernando Pessoa (POR)

1935   Ding Ling (CHN), Lu Xun (CHN), Shen Congwen (CHN)

1936   Rafael Alberti (ESP), Jorge Guillén (ESP), Federico García Lorca (ESP)

1937   Osip Mandelstam (POL/RUS), Boris Pasternak (RUS), Marina Tsvetaeva (RUS)

1938   Georges Bataille (FRA), Louis-Ferdinand Céline (FRA), Colette (FRA)

1939   Walter Benjamin (GER), F. Scott Fitzgerald (USA), Nathanael West (USA)

1940   Isaac Babel (UKR), Bruno Schulz (POL), Mikhail Bulgakov (RUS)

1941   Djuna Barnes (USA), Hilda Doolittle (USA), Virginia Woolf (GBR)

1942   Hermann Broch (AUT), Thomas Mann (GER), Robert Musil (AUT)

1943   Isak Dinesen (DEN), Knut Hamsun (NOR), Sigrid Undset (NOR)

1944   Antonin Artaud (FRA), Jean Giraudoux (FRA), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (FRA)

1945   W.E.B. Du Bois (USA), Zora Neale Hurston (USA), Langston Hughes (USA)

1946   Alfred Döblin (GER), Hermann Hesse (SUI), Robert Walser (SUI)

1947   Sadegh Hedayat (IRI), Nazim Hikmet (TUR), Taha Hussein (EGY)

1948   Aldous Huxley (GBR), Malcolm Lowry (GBR), George Orwell (GBR)

1949   John Dos Passos (USA), William Faulkner (USA), Ernest Hemingway (USA)

1950   Pablo Neruda (CHI), Cesare Pavese (ITA), Dylan Thomas (GBR)

1951   W.H. Auden (GBR/USA), Robert Frost (USA), Wallace Stevens (USA)

1952   Flann O’Brien (IRL), Evelyn Waugh (GBR), P.G. Wodehouse (GBR)

1953   Saadat Hasan Manto (PAK), Eugene O’Neill (USA), Tennessee Williams (USA)

1954   Raymond Chandler (USA), Agatha Christie (GBR), Dashiell Hammett (USA)

1955   Louis Aragon (FRA), Simone de Beauvoir (FRA), Jean-Paul Sartre (FRA)

1956   Mulk Raj Anand (IND), R.K. Narayan (IND), Raja Rao (IND)

1957   Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (ITA), Primo Levi (ITA), Alberto Moravia (ITA)

1958   Fumiko Enchi (JPN), Yasunari Kawabata (JPN), Junichiro Tanizaki (JPN)

1959   Eugenio Montale (ITA), Salvatore Quasimodo (ITA), Giuseppe Ungaretti (ITA)

1960   Albert Camus (FRA), André Gide (FRA), André Malraux (FRA)

1961   James Baldwin (USA), Ralph Ellison (USA), Richard Wright (USA)

1962   Mervyn Peake (GBR), J.R.R. Tolkien (GBR), Shaaban Robert (TAN)

1963   Odysseus Elytis (GRE), Yiannis Ritsos (GRE), George Seferis (GRE)

1964   Flannery O’Connor (USA), Frank O’Hara (USA), Sylvia Plath (USA)

1965   Yukio Mishima (JPN), Christopher Okigbo (NGR), Amos Tutuola (NGR)

1966   Anna Akhmatova (RUS), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (RUS), Czeslaw Milosz (POL)

1967   Carlos Drummond de Andrade, João Guimarães Rosa, Clarice Lispector (all BRA)

1968   Shmuel Yosef Agnon (ISR), Chaim Grade (USA), Nelly Sachs (SWE)

1969   Samuel Beckett (IRL/FRA), Jean Genet (FRA), Eugène Ionesco (ROU/FRA)

1970   Ingeborg Bachmann (AUT), Heinrich Böll (GER), Paul Celan (ROU/FRA)

1971   Jorge Luis Borges (ARG), Julio Cortázar (ARG), Vladimir Nabokov (USA)

1972   Elizabeth Bishop (USA), Robert Lowell (USA), Marianne Moore (USA)

1973   Chinua Achebe (NGR), Ngugi wa Thiong’o (KEN), Wole Soyinka (NGR)

1974   Carlos Fuentes (MEX), Gabriel García Márquez (COL), Mario Vargas Llosa (PER)

1975   Italo Calvino (ITA), Georges Perec (FRA), Raymond Queneau (FRA)

1976   J.G. Ballard (GBR), Philip K. Dick (USA), Tawfiq al-Hakim (EGY)

1977   Lawrence Durrell (GBR), Iris Murdoch (IRL/GBR), Hugh MacDiarmid (GBR)

1978   Alejo Carpentier (CUB), Nicolás Guillén (CUB), Octavio Paz (MEX)

1979   Saul Bellow (USA), Henry Roth (USA), Philip Roth (USA)

1980   Zbigniew Herbert (POL), Stanislaw Lem (POL), Joseph Brodsky (RUS)

1981   Aimé Césaire (FRA/MTQ), Léopold Sédar Senghor (SEN), Okot p’Bitek (UGA)

1982   Camilo José Cela (ESP), Juan Goytisolo (ESP), Merce Rodoreda (ESP)

1983   Anthony Burgess (GBR), Graham Greene (GBR), Philip Larkin (GBR)

1984   Thomas Bernhard (AUT), Friedrich Dürrenmatt (SUI), Max Frisch (SUI)

1985   Francis Ponge (FRA), Alain Robbe-Grillet (FRA), Marguerite Yourcenar (FRA/USA)

1986   John Ashbery (USA), C.L.R. James (TTO), Danilo Kis (SRB)

1987   Faiz Ahmad Faiz (PAK), Les Murray (AUS), Patrick White (AUS)

1988   Raymond Carver (USA), N. Scott Momaday (USA), Toni Morrison (USA)

1989   Robert Coover (USA), Don DeLillo (USA), Thomas Pynchon (USA)

1990   Naguib Mahfouz (EGY), Tayeb Salih (SUD), Isaac Bashevis Singer (POL/USA)

1991   J.M. Coetzee (RSA), Nadine Gordimer (RSA), Doris Lessing (GBR)

1992   Wilson Harris (GUY), V.S. Naipaul (TTO), Derek Walcott (LCA)

1993   Amiri Baraka (USA), Allen Ginsberg (USA), William S. Burroughs (USA)

1994   Margaret Atwood (CAN), Robertson Davies (CAN), Alice Munro (CAN)

1995   Brian Friel (IRL), Seamus Heaney (IRL), Paul Muldoon (IRL)

1996   Yehuda Amichai (ISR), Amos Oz (ISR), Mahmoud Darwish (PLE)

1997   Vaclav Havel (CZE), Milan Kundera (CZE/FRA), Milorad Pavic (SRB)

1998   Eugenio de Andrade (POR), João Cabral de Melo Neto (BRA), José Saramago (POR)

1999   Günter Grass (GER), W.G. Sebald (GER), Christa Wolf (GER)

2000   Bei Dao (CHN), Mo Yan (CHN), Yang Lian (CHN)

2001   Tahar Ben Jelloun (MAR), Assia Djebar (ALG), Ousmane Sembène (SEN)

2002   Yasar Kemal (TUR), Cormac McCarthy (USA), J.D. Salinger (USA)

2003   Roberto Bolaño (CHI), Pramoedya Ananta Toer (INA), Muriel Spark (GBR)

2004   Edward Albee (USA), Tom Stoppard (GBR), August Wilson (USA)

2005   Hanif Kureishi (GBR), Salman Rushdie (GBR), Zadie Smith (GBR)

2006   Chingiz Aitmatov (KGZ), Ismail Kadare (ALB), Orhan Pamuk (TUR)

2007   David Grossman (ISR), Marilynne Robinson (USA), David Foster Wallace (USA)

2008   Anita Desai (IND), Mahasweta Devi (IND), Rohinton Mistry (CAN)

2009   Peter Carey (AUS), Ian McEwan (GBR), Philip Pullman (GBR)

2010   Geoffrey Hill (GBR), Tomas Tranströmer (SWE), Adam Zagajewski (POL)

2011   Kazuo Ishiguro (GBR), Haruki Murakami (JPN), Kenzaburo Oe (JPN)

2012   Neil Gaiman (GBR), Ursula K. Le Guin (USA), J.K. Rowling (GBR)

2013   Svetlana Aleksievich (BLR), Lydia Davis (USA), Ko Un (KOR)

2014   Adonis (SYR), Jon Fosse (NOR), Patrick Modiano (FRA)

2015   Bob Dylan (USA), Leonard Cohen (CAN), Stephen Sondheim (USA)

2016   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (NGR), Buchi Emecheta (NGR), Nicanor Parra (CHI)

2017   Elena Ferrante (ITA), Nuruddin Farah (SOM), Javier Marías (ESP)

2018   Mia Couto (MOZ), Ben Okri (NGR), Michael Ondaatje (SRL/CAN)

2019   Junot Díaz (DOM/USA), Louise Erdrich (USA), Cesar Aira (ARG)

2020   Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (IRI), Duong Thu Huong (VIE), Amitav Ghosh (IND)

2021   Jamaica Kincaid (ANT), Dubravka Ugresic (CRO/NED), John le Carré (GBR)

2022   F. Sionil José (PHI), Alain Mabanckou (COD), Hamid Ismailov (UZB)

Notable omissions: Joseph Roth (d. 1939), Chairil Anwar (d. 1949), Nick Joaquin (d. 2004), Octavia Butler (d. 2006), Ryszard Kapuscinski (d. 2007), Eduardo Galeano (d. 2015)

Future winners: Rebecca Solnit, Hilary Mantel, David Mitchell, A.B. Yehoshua, Yan Lianke, António Lobo Antunes

Too many American and British

8/3/15: Edited to add Tawfiq al-Hakim for 1976 and replace George R.R. Martin with Ursula K. Le Guin for 2012

3/18/16: Edited to replace Max Jacob with WB Yeats for 1917, so that I could add Premchand for 1936; also added prizes for 2017

5/18/16: Edited to replace E.L. Doctorow with Ian McEwan for 2009, and add Pramoedya Ananta Toer for 2006; also replaced John Updike with Yasar Kemal for 2002

6/4/16: Edited to replace C.S. Lewis with Shaaban Robert for 1962

11/29/16: Switched the winners for 2015 and 2016 because Leonard Cohen died in 2016

1/25/17: Changed my mind about 2019, replaced John McPhee with Junot Díaz

3/1/17: Changed my mind again, replaced Wendell Berry with Louise Erdrich

5/23/17: Added 2020, switched Buchi Emecheta for Amitav Ghosh since she died in 2017

7/27/17: Replaced Arthur Miller with Saadat Hasan Manto for 1953

10/3/17: Added 2021

10/4/17: Added nationalities; replaced Keri Hulme with Faiz Ahmad Faiz for 1987, switched Cesar Aira and Hilary Mantel, added 2012

10/6/17: Replaced René Char with Antonin Artaud

10/11/17: Switched Czeslaw Milosz with Joseph Brodsky

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2 thoughts on “Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature

  1. Ok. M. De Assis is on your list and that’s very good (of course I’m brazilian). Brazil had a bit of modernism too; I would really consider Graciliano Ramos and Clarice Lispector to the list. Ingmar Bergman should be in the list as an exception to the rule. I didn’t saw Bohumil Hrabal and he should have won. Great list.

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