Nobel prize for literature: Horace Engdahl on 'ignorant' American writing

Article published on Oct. 4, 2008
Article published on Oct. 4, 2008
The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy criticises US writing days before the winner is announced, on 9 October

(Image Wikimedia)‘The US 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,’ Horace Engdahl publicly said in an interview with the Associated Press. The message comes from the mouth of a figure of authority at the Swedish Academy, and might lead us to think that a European writer might be the clear favourite to win the Nobel prize for literature in 2008, announced on 9 October. Names are being floated around of writers and previous nominees like Portugal’s António Lobo Antunes and Italy’s Claudio Magris. Without a doubt, the Swedish Academy are probably aiming at pulling out a wildcard winner at the last moment. It’s still not ruled out of course, that American writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth or Don DeLillo, could take the prize home. Canadian Margaret Atwood is another favourite.

Surprising strategy?

New Yorker editor David Remnick said ‘You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures.’ Engdahl responded by trying to rectify his comments in another interview with daily paper Svenska dagbladet – ‘The Nobel prize is not a national competition; it is an individual award.'