People hoping to see Hilary Mantel, who died last month, win the Nobel prize in literature might have to think again; the rules state that the Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously.
Since 1974, if a recipient dies after the prize has been announced, they can still be awarded it. Previously, a person could be awarded posthumously if they had already been nominated before 1 February of the same year.
Ellen Mattson, writer and member of the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Committee, said the “world is full of very good, excellent writers, and you need something more to be a laureate”.
She said it’s difficult to explain what that something more is, but that it’s “something you’re born with, I think”. “The romantics would call it a divine spark,” she added.
Mattson also said there’s no age limit on writers who can be nominated, but it “takes quite a lot of time to be a good writer.”
“It is possible to find a laureate who is perhaps 30 or 40, but it’s highly unlikely because as I say, you need time to develop,” she continued. “It’s a mistime’s process to reach that level of excellence.”
How it works
The recipient of the Nobel prize in literature is decided on by the Swedish Academy, a group of 18 members, but there’s a whole process that takes place before this.
The selection begins when the Nobel Committee for Literature – a group of four or five people – sends out invitations to hundreds of people, asking them to nominate writers for the prize. The eligible candidates to nominate can’t be revealed until 50 years after the prize is awarded, but the group consists of four different types of people:
Members of the Swedish Academy and of other academies, institutions and societies which are similar to it in construction and purpose;
Professors of literature and of linguistics at universities and university colleges;
Previous Nobel Prize laureates in literature
Presidents of those societies of authors that are representative of the literary production in their respective countries
Once the nominations are in, the committee first selects 15–20 names for consideration, and then whittles these down to five for the Swedish Academy to look at. The academy meets in September, and decides the Nobel literature laureate in early October; the winner must receive more than half the votes cast.
Several people on Twitter are hoping for a Rushdie win
Possible contenders: Margaret Atwood
Like Rushdie, Atwood has already won the Booker Prize, twice, in fact: for The Blind Assassin in 2000 and for The Testaments in 2019 (when she shared the award with Bernardine Evaristo, who won for Girl, Woman, Other). The 82-year-old author has consistently produced critically and commercially acclaimed books, and writes across genres and forms.
The Swedish Academy does like to award writers who speak about power and politics in their work; Last year’s winner, Abdulrazaq Gurnah was awarded for “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. Given how often ideas and imagery from Atwood’s work on her, particularly The Handmaid’s Tale, has been used in recent years, the academy could judge that now is the perfect time to award her.
Possible contenders: Salman Rushdie
British-American novelist Rushdie is clearly at the forefront of people’s minds, given the horrific attack on him earlier this year. His work has long been admired – and he’s already won one of the world’s other great literary prizes, the Booker, for Midnight’s Children in 1981. His name has been floated as a possible Nobel literature winner for years, and he’s among the bookies’ favorites this year. Certainly, David Remnick at the New Yorker thinks it’s Rushdie’s time; earlier this year he wrote: “As a literary artist, Rushdie is richly deserving of the Nobel, and the case is only augmented by his role as an uncompromising defender of freedom and a symbol of resilience.”
But whether the academy takes into account recent events and makes Rushdie this year’s winner is anyone’s guess, and the fact that it took them 27 years to condemn the fatwa issued against Rushdie. If he does win, he’d be the first Indian-born writer to do so since Rabindranath Tagore, all the way back in 1913.
Last year’s winner was Abdulrazak Gurnah, making him the first Black African in 35 years to win the prize. Gurnah, who grew up on one of the islands of Zanzibar before fleeing persecution and arriving in England as a student in the 1960s, was praised by the Nobel for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.
Here’s a roundup of the bookmakers’ favorites for this year’s prize
Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the Nobel prize in literature, which should be awarded to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”, according to the will of Alfred Nobel.
This year’s winner will be announced at 12pm BST (1pm CEST). Will it be Salman Rushdie, a bookmaker’s favorite after he was stabbed at a public lecture earlier this year? Could it be another songwriter, like Bob Dylan, who was chosen in 2016? Or is it finally the year for Haruki Murakami, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o or Annie Ernaux – all names that are predicted year after year.
Join my colleague Sarah Shaffi and I for the next hour or so as we post updates, trivia and speculation about this year’s prize.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism