Nobel Prize in Literature: 1901-Present

Austrian writer Peter Handke poses in Chaville, in the suburbs of Paris, on Oct. 10, 2019 after he was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in literature.
Austrian writer Peter Handke poses in Chaville, in the suburbs of Paris, on Oct. 10, 2019 after he was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in literature. (Image credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

The Nobel Prize in Literature is given to "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction," according to Alfred Nobel's will. The 18-member Swedish Academy selects the Nobel Laureates in Literature.

The winners, along with the reasons given by the Swedish Academy for the award, are:

2019: Peter Handke "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced. The 76-year-old Austrian author is perhaps best known for his novella on his mother's suicide, "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams." Handke was a controversial choice due to his support for the Serbs during the 1990s Yugoslav war, the BBC News reported.

2018: Olga Tokarczuk "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced. Her novel "Primeval and Other Times" traces the history of Poland from WWI to the 1980s, the BBC News reported.

2017: English author Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world," according to the Swedish Academy. His novels include: "The Remains of the Day," "Never Let Me Go," "The Buried Giant," "When We Were Orphans," "An Artist of the Floating World," "A Pale View of Hills," "Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall" and "The Unconsoled. 

2016: The Swedish Academy of Science has awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." 

2015: Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time," according to the Swedish Academy. She is known for her works about the women involved in World War II; the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986; a portrayal of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan; and other books depicting life in the Soviet Union.  

2014: Patrick Modiano "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation," according to the Swedish Academy.

2013: Alice Munro, for "her finely tuned storytelling."

2012: Mo Yan, for his "mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives."

2011: Tomas Tranströmer, "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."

2010: Mario Vargas Llosa, "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat."

2009: Herta Müller,"who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."

2008: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

2007: Doris Lessing, "that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny."

2006: Orhan Pamuk, "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."

2005: Harold Pinter, "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

2004: Elfriede Jelinek, "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power."

2003: John M. Coetzee, "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."

2002: Imre Kertész, "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."

2001: Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."

2000: Gao Xingjian, "for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama."

1999: Günter Grass, "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history."

1998: José Saramago, "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality."

1997: Dario Fo, "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."

1996: Wislawa Szymborska, "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality."

1995: Seamus Heaney, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

1994: Kenzaburo Oe, "who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."

1993: Toni Morrison, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

1992: Derek Walcott, "for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment."

1991: Nadine Gordimer, "who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity."

1990: Octavio Paz, "for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."

1989: Camilo José Cela, "for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability."

1988: Naguib Mahfouz, "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind."

1987: Joseph Brodsky, "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity."

1986: Wole Soyinka, "who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence."

1985: Claude Simon, "who in his novel combines the poet's and the painter's creativeness with a deepened awareness of time in the depiction of the human condition."

1984: Jaroslav Seifert, "for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man."

1983: William Golding, "for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today."

1982: Gabriel García Márquez, "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."

1981: Elias Canetti, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power."

1980: Czeslaw Milosz, "who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts."

1979: Odysseus Elytis, "for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness."

1978: Isaac Bashevis Singer, "for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life."

1977: Vicente Aleixandre, "for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man's condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars."

1976: Saul Bellow, "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."

1975: Eugenio Montale, "for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions."

1974: Eyvind Johnson, "for a narrative art, far-seeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom," and Harry Martinson, "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos."

1973: Patrick White, "for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature."

1972: Heinrich Böll, "for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature."

1971: Pablo Neruda, "for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams."

1970: Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

1969: Samuel Beckett, "for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation."

1968: Yasunari Kawabata, "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind."

1967: Miguel Angel Asturias, "for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America."

1966: Shmuel Yosef Agnon, "for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people," and Nelly Sachs, "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength."

1965: Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, "for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people."

1964: Jean-Paul Sartre, "for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age."

1963: Giorgos Seferis, "for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture."

1962: John Steinbeck, "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception."

1961: Ivo Andric, "for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country."

1960: Saint-John Perse, "for the soaring flight and the evocative imagery of his poetry which in a visionary fashion reflects the conditions of our time."

1959: Salvatore Quasimodo, "for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times."

1958: Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, "for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition."

1957: Albert Camus, "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times."

1956: Juan Ramón Jiménez, "for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity."

1955: Halldór Kiljan Laxness, "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland."

1954: Ernest Miller Hemingway, "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in 'The Old Man and the Sea,' and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style."

1953: Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."

1952: François Mauriac, "for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life."

1951: Pär Fabian Lagerkvist, "for the artistic vigor and true independence of mind with which he endeavors in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind."

1950: Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell, "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought."

1949: William Faulkner, "for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel."

1948: Thomas Stearns Eliot, "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry."

1947: André Paul Guillaume Gide, "for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight."

1946: Hermann Hesse, "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style."

1945: Gabriela Mistral, "for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world."

1944: Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, "for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style."

1940-1943: No Nobel Prize awarded

1939: Frans Eemil Sillanpää, "for his deep understanding of his country's peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature."

1938: Pearl Buck, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."

1937: Roger Martin du Gard, "for the artistic power and truth with which he has depicted human conflict as well as some fundamental aspects of contemporary life in his novel-cycle Les Thibault."

1936: Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, "for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy."

1935: No Prize awarded.

1934: Luigi Pirandello, "for his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art."

1933: Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin, "for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing."

1932: John Galsworthy, "for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga."

1931: Erik Axel Karlfeldt, for his poetry.

1930: Sinclair Lewis, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters."

1929: Thomas Mann, "principally for his great novel, Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature."

1928: Sigrid Undset, "principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages."

1927: Henri Bergson, "in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented."

1926: Grazia Deledda, "for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general."

1925: George Bernard Shaw, "for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty."

1924: Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont, "for his great national epic, The Peasants."

1923: William Butler Yeats, "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."

1922: Jacinto Benavente, "for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama."

1921: Anatole France, "in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament."

1920: Knut Pedersen Hamsun, "for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil."

1919: Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler, "in special appreciation of his epic, Olympian Spring."

1918: No Prize awarded

1917: Karl Adolph Gjellerup, "for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals," and Henrik Pontoppidan, "for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark."

1916: Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam, "in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature."

1915: Romain Rolland, "as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings."

1914: No Prize awarded

1913: Rabindranath Tagore, "because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West."

1912: Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann, "primarily in recognition of his fruitful, varied and outstanding production in the realm of dramatic art."

1911: Count Maurice (Mooris) Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck, "in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations."

1910: Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse, "as a tribute to the consummate artistry, permeated with idealism, which he has demonstrated during his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories."

1909: Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf, "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings."

1908: Rudolf Christoph Eucken, "in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life."

1907: Rudyard Kipling, "in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author."

1906: Giosuè Carducci, "not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces."

1905: Henryk Sienkiewicz, "because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer."

1904: Frédéric Mistral, "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist," and José Echegaray y Eizaguirre, "in recognition of the numerous and brilliant compositions which, in an individual and original manner, have revived the great traditions of the Spanish drama."

1903: Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson, "as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit."

1902: Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen, "the greatest living master of the art of historical writing, with special reference to his monumental work, A history of Rome."

1901: Sully Prudhomme, "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect."

Live Science Staff
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