Who will win the 2013 Nobel Literature prize?

Nobel Prize for Literature suggestions
Writers Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Alice Munro and Philip Roth top David Ulin’s wish list for this year’s Nobel Prize for literature.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times; Derek Shapton / Alfred A. Knopf; Nancy Crampton)
<i>This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.</i>

The next winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced Thursday morning in Stockholm.

In the United Kingdom, where you can wager on such things, the betting money is on Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. As of Monday morning, the Ladbrokes betting site has the author of the “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “1Q84” as a five-to-two favorite to win.

Over at the Boston Globe, Chris Wright points out that the British bookies making these odds probably haven’t read most of the authors listed along with Murakami as potential favorites. After Murakami, the Ladbrokes list is topped by Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro, American Joyce Carol Oates and the Hungarian novelist Peter Nadas, whose most recent novel, the 1,100-page “Parallel Stories,” includes a sex scene that’s nearly 100 pages long.

PHOTOS: Nobel Prize in Literature Winners


With the announcement just days away, we’ve asked The Times’ book staff to suggest who will -- or should -- win.

David Ulin writes:

What we know about the Nobel is that it will (almost) always confound us, that we will likely be confronted with an unexpected choice. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, Herta Muller, even last year’s winner Mo Yan —what unites these writers is their dark horse status, the way they seem to have come out of nowhere to win.

With that in mind, I’m not going to make a Nobel prediction, but suggest a wish list instead. That list includes three writers: Philip Roth, Alice Munro and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. All of them, I think, are deserving (exemplary) choices — committed, transcendent, committed to literature and to politics, to the idea that a writer must play a public role. This is both a posture that the Nobel committee seems to value and also a faith in the power of language to transform us.


It’s fashionable to criticize Roth for looking inward, as well as for his at times considerable misogyny. But while I can’t argue about the latter, the former, I think, minimizes the breadth of his engagement in the world. In the 1980s, he founded the Writers From the Other Europe series, showcasing writing from behind the Iron Curtain, and in novels such as “The Counterlife,” “Operation Shylock” and “American Pastoral,” he has given us a vision of history as a narrative force. And yet, do I think he’ll win? Not really. He’s an American, for one thing (the last American laureate was Toni Morrison in 1993), and he has committed the cardinal sin of appearing to want it too much.

The same cannot be said of Munro, who is, in many ways, Roth’s polar opposite: a genius of the short form, expertly delving into the inner lives of women as they go on about their days. It’s a quiet sensibility, but fierce at the same time, and in its own way, as political as anything Roth has ever done. What Munro is telling us is that even these ordinary lives, the kind we almost always overlook, have their own grandeur. I wonder, though, if this is too subtle for a prize committee that prefers writers who wear their politics on their sleeves.

And then, there’s Ngugi, the Kenyan author of more than 20 volumes (novels, essay collections, children’s books, plays) that trace his developing sensibility, in which the personal and the political are inextricably tied. Like Chinua Achebe, he composed his early works in English, before renouncing that in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue. In the 1970s, he was detained as a political prisoner and ultimately forced into exile; he has taught at UC Irvine for many years.

Carolyn Kellogg writes:

My pick is Adonis – the Syrian poet, not the Greek god, although that was the inspiration for the nom de plume taken by the man who was born Ali Ahmed Said in 1930. I’ve said before that Adonis is a strong candidate for the Nobel, and the ongoing attention to his home country makes that even more likely. Considered one of the great poets of our time, Adonis creatively challenged the forms and traditions of Arabic poetry, advancing and expanding its possibilities. He has been stylistically adventurous, virtuosic at the tight epigram and epic poem.

After being jailed in Syria for a year for his political views in the 1950s, he made his home in Beirut; in 1985, he moved to Paris. With his own poetry, criticism, and work as an editor and translator, Adonis has been a major force in Arabic literature. He once suggested that the contemporary poet “sets his words as traps or nets to catch an unknown world.’’ He has had a tendency to question political dogma, which has sometimes put him at odds with his colleagues, but speaks to a determination to reach his own conclusions, something the Nobel committee seems to have rewarded in the past.

Hector Tobar writes:

I’m going to adopt a Canadian theme for my predictions. No Canadian writer has ever won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and this may be the year the committee decides to choose one. There are at least two strong candidates who often make the list of favorites, and one possible dark horse who isn’t on anyone’s radar screen as far as I can tell.


The Nobel committee has a long tradition of choosing writers with careers as public figures (Mario Vargas Llosa comes to mind), or who identify themselves with various left-wing causes (Harold Pinter and Dario Fo). Margaret Atwood’s novels have taken up feminist themes, and she’s an outspoken defender of the environment, and she might just win.

Of course, the committee is also famous for choosing (every few years) a writer whose work is largely unknown outside his or her native country. In 2011, it chose Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet who had previously won another prestigious global literary prize, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The Indian Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry is the most recent winner of that biennial honor. That makes the author of “Family Matters” a plausible surprise choice to win the Nobel this year.

But if I had to predict who the committee might chose, it would have to be the Canadian writer friend of mine once referred to as “our Chekhov.” Quietly and without much fanfare, Alice Munro helped shape the tone and the concerns of 20th century fiction in English. Of the three Canadian writers I’m thinking of, Munro would be my own choice, mostly because her powers of observation and language and empathy helped shape my own ideas about what fiction can and should be.

[For the record, 3:45 p.m. Oct. 7: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Peter Nadas’ novel was titled “Parallel Stores”; it is “Parallel Stories.”]

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