Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature (Swedish: Nobelpriset i litteratur) has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Alfred Nobel, produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction” (original Swedish: den som inom litteraturen har producerat det mest framstående verket i en idealisk riktning). Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, here “work” refers to an author’s work as a whole. The Swedish Academydecides who, if anyone, will receive the prize in any given year. The academy announces the name of the chosen laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Physics, Nobel Peace Prize, and Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Although the Nobel Prize in Literature has become the world’s most prestigious literature prize, the Swedish Academy has attracted significant criticism for its handling of the award. Many authors who have won the prize have fallen into obscurity, while others rejected by the jury remain widely studied and read, like Ruben Darío. The prize has “become widely seen as a political one – a peace prize in literary disguise”, whose judges are prejudiced against authors with different political tastes to them. Tim Parks has expressed skepticism that it is possible for “Swedish professors … [to] compar[e] a poet from Indonesia, perhaps translated into English with a novelist from Cameroon, perhaps available only in French, and another who writes in Afrikaans but is published in German and Dutch…”. As of 2016, 16 of the 113 recipients have been of Scandinavian origin. The Academy has often been alleged to be biased towards European, and in particular Swedish, authors. Some, such as Indian academic Sabaree Mitra, have noted that, though the Nobel Prize in Literature is significant and tends to overshadow other awards, it is “not the only benchmark of literary excellence.”
Nobel’s “vague” wording for the criteria for the prize has led to recurrent controversy. In the original Swedish, the word idealisktranslates as either “idealistic” or “ideal”. The Nobel Committee‘s interpretation has varied over the years. In recent years, this means a kind of idealism championing human rights on a broad scale