At 1 p.m. Central European Time (aka 6 a.m. in Nashville), we learned that the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize in Literature “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”
Tranströmer, 80, is a bestseller in Sweden, and his work has been translated into more than 50 languages. Poets.org has some more information about Tranströmer, including selected poems. Here’s some info about his poetry:
His work has gradually shifted from the traditional and ambitious nature poetry written in his early twenties toward a darker, personal, and more open verse. His work barrels into the void, striving to understand and grapple with the unknowable, searching for transcendence.
According to the British betting house Ladbrokes, Tranströmer was a favorite to win. (As of a couple days ago, his odds were about 6/1.) In the United States, you can buy Tranströmer’s work from HarperCollins, Graywolf Press and New Directions.
You can read more about past winners of this prize on NobelPrize.org. The literature prize has been awarded ever since 1901. The last time an American won the prize was in 1993, when the honor went to Toni Morrison, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
Though I usually root for authors that are familiar to me (like Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami), it is always thrilling to discover an international voice I have never read before, like Tranströmer.
By the way, on Monday there was an interesting piece in Salon asserting that the reasons Americans are not strong contenders for the Prize is because our great authors are writers of “self-enforced isolation” and not “novel[s] of big ideas.” Do you agree?
By the way, part two: My favorite literary depiction of what it’s like to win a major book award is in Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife, in which famous author Joseph Castleman wins the (fictional) Helsinki Prize and must journey to Finland to accept it. The account of “the call”—and its aftermath—is from the point of view of Joseph’s wife, Joan. Here’s an excerpt:
Always, each year, you hear stories about how some winner or other assumed the call was a prank. There are legendary tales of writers being shaken from sleep by a ringing telephone and cursing the man with the accent on the phone, telling him, “Do you know what time it is?” Only then, lifting to the surface of consciousness, did they realize what the call was about, that it was genuine, and that it meant that their life would change shape forever.
This wasn’t the Nobel prize, of course; it was a few steps down, a defiant stepchild that had enhanced its reputation over time by the sheer power of its prize money, which this year was the equivalent of $525,000. It wasn’t the Nobel, just as Finland wasn’t Sweden. But still the prize was an extravagant honor and thrill. It elevated you—if not to Stockholm heights, then at least partway up.
Do you get excited every year for the Nobel announcement? Have you read Tranströmer? Will you?