Literary Establishment Fails To Acknowledge Certain Authors

Oct 10, 2013
Originally published on October 10, 2013 6:39 am



The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced later this morning and Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is the frontrunner, at least according to the British betting agency Ladbrokes. Writers who get the Ladbrokes' blessing do sometimes end up winning.

But NPR's Lynn Neary has been thinking about writers whose Nobel odds are more like a-million-to-one.


When people win big awards - the Oscars, The Tonys, the Grammies - they always act surprised.




NEARY: Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa was a tad more subdued when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA: For a moment I thought it could a joke of a friend. But 14 minutes later, I discovered that it was real.

NEARY: Exactly 14 minutes? Anyway, a lot of writers never get calls like that and some of them are pretty big deals.

CRIAG FERGUSON: My first guest tonight is a legendary author, an American genius, an icon of the literary world...


NEARY: That's the talk show host Craig Ferguson introducing Stephen King? Well, think about it: Who's bigger than Steven King. But King once said he had to pay to go the National Book Awards because no one ever invited him. He finally was invited and he got an award for his Contribution to American Letters. Some in the literary world howled. And King told the gathering he used to think there was conspiracy against non-literary writers like him.

STEPHEN KING: Even a note on the acknowledgement's page of a novel, thanking the this-or-that foundation for its generous assistance, was enough to set me off.


KING: I knew what it meant, I told my wife: It was the old boy network at work...

NEARY: But so what if the literary establishment doesn't reward certain kinds of writers with awards. Some of those authors may have to get their validation elsewhere; maybe they just have to settle for big bucks and massive popularity.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What are you, a cop?

TOM CRUISE: (as Jack Reacher) Call around, Gary.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm going to need to see some ID.

CRUISE: (as Jack Reacher) Go get Sandy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, I need to see something.

CRUISE: (as Jack Reacher) How about the inside of an ambulance?

NEARY: That was Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher the literary creation of author Lee Child. He's one of those writers who turns out a best seller every year. He won't get a Nobel. For that matter neither will comedian-turned-writer Chelsea Handler who, coincidentally, also appeared on the Craig Ferguson show.

FERGUSON: I guess (unintelligible) of course, it's number one on The New York Times. My God.


CHELSEA HANDLER: Yeah, I know. I know.


FERGUSON: That's great.


HANDLER: I know.

FERGUSON: That - it's a - you're the new Salman Rushdie.

HANDLER: I'm very similar to Salman Rushdie. I like salmon actually - the food. But I do...

NEARY: It's not that the Nobel Committee doesn't have a sense of humor - though there is no evidence of it. It's just that it tends to favor writers who are both literary and political. Chelsea Handler freely admits she doesn't have such big ambitions when comes to her writing.

HANDLER: There's no better feeling to someone else hysterically laughing when they can't contain themselves. And we've all had that, where you really think you're going to pee. That's what I want people to be doing.


NEARY: When they read your books.



NEARY: Of course Handler is in pretty good company. Among the many writers who have been spurned by the Nobel: Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce - you get the idea.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.


GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.