Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why Don't More Americans Win the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Since learning that Alice Munro won the 2013 Novel Prize in Literature on Thursday morning, I've come across an interesting article found on The New Yorker website titled Why Don’t More Americans Win the Nobel Prize? posted by Ian Crouch.

Since I am an American, I wanted to read why more Americans don't win the Nobel Prize. The article posted by Ian Crouch focuses solely on the Nobel Prize in Literature and not on the other Nobel Prize categories. I also didn't realize until after reading this article that the last American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature was Toni Morrison and that was 30 years ago in 1983.

Near the end of 'Why Don't More Americans Win the Nobel Prize?', I came across the following two paragraphs that seem to explain why more Americans have not won the Nobel Prize in Literature:
Many have seen the Nobel Prize in Literature, meanwhile, as a kind of international referendum on American literary hegemony. The prize hasn’t been awarded to an American since 1993, when Toni Morrison won. The sniping about years of snubs might just have been chalked up to sour grapes, had it not been for the comments, in 2008, by Horace Engdahl, who was at that time the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy. “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining,” he said. Not everything in the remark was outrageous; American publishers do translate too few books from other languages into English—just three per cent of books published each year are translations. Yet his remarks overlooked the fact that more than sixty million Americans speak a primary language other than English—meaning that the United States is far from being backwardly monocultural or monolingual. Philip Roth’s New Jersey is also Junot Díaz’s New Jersey.

Critics in this country responded angrily, to which later Engdahl expressed his surprise, and noted that he had perhaps been speaking too generally. He stepped down as permanent secretary in 2009, and his replacement, Peter Englund, has walked back his predecessor’s indictment of American writing. But the damage was done, and commentators began to see the Nobel Prize in Literature as being actively denied to American writers, and on the same grounds that American intellectuals have long been dismissed by Europeans. Perhaps the best way to insult an American with aspirations to cosmopolitanism is to call him and his fellows ignorant rustics, functional only in English and kept safely away from real intellectual rigor and debate by geographical isolation, local peace, and relative material abundance. The Swedes had decided that we were, as Sinclair Lewis remarked back in 1930, still “a puerile backwoods clan.”
Does this explanation seem like a fair assessment as to why more Americans have not won the Nobel Prize? Share your thoughts!

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