Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet, has won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2011. At least he doesn’t have far to travel to the award ceremony in Stockholm. One wonders, once again, why American writers have been ignored. The last American to win the prize was Toni Morrison in 1993. Interestingly, the three Americans who won before Ms. Morrison were all naturalized citizens who immigrated to the U.S. as adults, and whose main literary outputs were in languages other than English. These were the Russian-born Joseph Brodsky in 1987; the Polish-born poet Czeslaw Milosz in 1980; and the Polish-born Yiddish fiction writer Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1978. Another immigrant, Candian-born Saul Bellow, arrived in Chicago as a child and wrote prolifically in English for seven decades, winning the Nobel in 1976.
In total, only eleven American citizens have won the literature prize since competition began in 1901. Others include John Steinbeck (1962), Ernest Hemingway (1954), William Faulkner (1949), Pearl Buck (1938), Eugene O’Neill (1936) and Sinclair Lewis (1930).
American Philip Roth received this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Hasn’t his distinguished contribution to literature been worthy of a Nobel? Although the English playwright Harold Pinter won the prize in 2005, his great American contemporary, Edward Albee has not. One has to speculate that perhaps the Nobel Prize in literature is being awarded with political considerations, given the U.S. unpopular foreign policy in Europe and the rest of the world. Just a thought.