STOCKHOLM: The 2017 Nobel season opens next week with all eyes on the two most anticipated prizes: literature, after last year’s shock award to Bob Dylan, and peace, as tensions rise over nuclear concerns in North Korea and Iran.
Down the years, from Rudyard Kipling to Dylan, from the founder of the Red Cross to Barack Obama and Albert Einstein, a total of 911 men, women and organisations have won a Nobel Prize. The awards were created by the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, in his 1895 will and handed out for the first time in 1901. They were to honour “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in the fields of literature, peace, medicine, physics and chemistry.
The economics prize, the only award not included in Nobel’s will, is funded by the Swedish central bank, which created the prize at its 300-year anniversary in 1968. It was first awarded in 1969. The 2017 season opens on Monday with the announcement of the medicine prize, followed by the physics award on Tuesday and the chemistry prize on Wednesday. The peace prize will be announced on October 6. The date for the literature prize is revealed only a few days in advance but traditionally falls on a Thursday, so October 5 and 12 are seen as possible dates.
The peace prize, the only Nobel awarded in Oslo, usually elicits the most interest – and the most heated debates. Last year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won for his efforts to bring peace to his country, ravaged by more than a half-century of conflict. This year, 318 people and organisations have been nominated. Speculation has focused on the nuclear issue, as tensions have mounted between Washington and Pyongyang after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test as well as uncertainty over the Iran deal, which US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up.
Two key orchestrators of that accord, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, are seen as strong contenders by the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (Prio), Henrik Urdal. “With North Korea also at stake, it’s very important to support initiatives that guard against the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons,” he said. The names of the candidates are kept secret for at least 50 years, but those eligible to nominate candidates – including former laureates, lawmakers and government ministers around the world, and some university professors – are allowed to disclose their choices.
Those believed to be on the list include Syria’s White Helmets rescue service, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and Edward Snowden, who revealed the scope of America’s NSA electronic surveillance programme. Like one of his predecessors George W. Bush, US President Donald Trump, who has exchanged threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in recent weeks, has been nominated by an unidentified American who wants him honoured for “his peace through strength ideology”.
For the literature prize, the Swedish Academy also keeps mum about its list of nominees, leaving observers and literary critics to speculate wildly. Many of the same names reappear year after year in the guessing game: Don DeLillo of the US, Margaret Atwood of Canada, Syrian-born poet Adonis, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o to name a few. Israel’s Amos Oz and David Grossmann, Italy’s Claudio Magris, Albania’s Ismail Kadare and France’s Michel Houellebecq are also frequently mentioned.
But Stockholm’s literary circles agree on one thing: the Academy will in all likelihood make a consensual, conservative choice, after last year’s pick of US popular music legend and songwriter Bob Dylan both stunned and divided the world. “What happened last year was really unusual. This year I think it’ll be a male novelist or essayist with roots in Europe. I think it’s going to be the exact opposite of Bob Dylan,” predicted Bjorn Wiman, the cultural editor of Sweden’s main daily Dagens Nyheter.
He thinks Antonio Lobo Antunes of Portugal and Albania’s Kadare have a good chance. “Everyone will think ‘Of course they deserve the prize’, and there’ll be no objection.” This year, each Nobel comes with a nine million kronor ($1.1-million, 940,500-euro) prize sum, to be shared if several laureates are honoured in the same discipline.
The laureates receive their prizes at formal banquets held in Stockholm and Oslo on December 10.
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