STOCKHOLM, October 9 – The Swedish Academy will announce the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday, amid critics’ charges that anti-American bias was blocking literary figures such as Philip Roth from clinching the award.
The list of nominees is never disclosed, leaving observers to speculate wildly up until the moment the Academy’s permanent secretary Horace Engdahl announces the laureate at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).
In the run-up to this year’s prize announcement, French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio has been widely tipped to win in Stockholm literary circles, while Romanian-born German author Herta Mueller and South Korean poet Ko Un also figure among the favourites.
In recent days however, Swedish media have hotly debated comments Engdahl made in an interview with a US news outlet in which he criticised American writers for being too influenced by their own popular culture.
He also said that Europe, in his mind, remained the centre of the literary world.
In another interview with British daily The Guardian, Engdahl attempted to smooth over the controversy by insisting that "it is of no importance, when we judge American candidates, how any of us views American literature as a whole in comparison with other literatures."
"The Nobel prize is not a contest between nations but an award to individual authors," he said.
Some Swedish literary critics have suggested that Engdahl’s initial inflammatory remarks may simply have been a smokescreen to hide the fact that this year’s prize will go to an American author like Roth, Joyce Carol Oates or Don DeLillo.
Unlike with the other Nobel prizes, Americans have in recent years rarely landed the prestigious Literature Prize. The last US citizen to take the honours was Toni Morrison in 1993.
The vast majority of the literature laureates have been Europeans, with last year’s prize going to British novelist Doris Lessing.
In order to second-guess the committee, some observers point to continents, countries or languages, as well as genres that have not been awarded for a while.
South America and Africa are continents that have not had a literature laureate in a while, so if the Academy is thinking along those lines possible winners could be Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes, Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa or Assia Djebar of Algeria.
Italy’s Antonio Tabucchi, Israeli Amos Oz, Haruki Murakami of Japan, Australian Les Murray and Syrian poet Adonis are other names making the rounds.
As last year, online betting site Ladbrokes singled out Italian essayist Claudio Magris as a clear favourite in the run-up to the announcement, ahead of Adonis, Oz and Oates to receive the Nobel gold medal, a diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor (1.42 million dollars, 1.02 million euros).