It’s Literally Wednesday: A Nobel Discussion

According to the Nobel Prize official website:

The statutes of the Nobel Foundation restrict disclosure of information about the nominations, whether publicly or privately, for 50 years. The restriction concerns the nominees and nominators, as well as investigations and opinions related to the award of a prize.

And so we have recently learned of the Nobel committee’s deliberations concerning the awarding of the prize for literature back in 1962. John Steinbeck, who had previously been nominated eight times, was on the Nobel’s short list along with English poet Robert Graves and French dramatist Jean Anouilh. Danish author Karen Blixen and British novelist Lawrence Durrell were also considered, but Blixen (aka Isak Denisen) had died in September and was thus disqualified. Durrell had been nominated the previous year, but, according the Guardian, he’d “been ruled out because he “gives a dubious aftertaste … because of [his] monomaniacal preoccupation with erotic complications”.” Graves was considered an inferior Ezra Pound, and Pound wouldn’t win because of his anti-Semitism. It appears that Anouilh was looked over because Saint-John Perse, a French poet, had won the Nobel two years earlier and the committee was interested in another Frenchman, Jean-Paul Sartre, who won two years later.

The Guardian concludes that Steinbeck “was actually chosen as the best of a bad lot.”

Which came as a surprise to me. My mother had me read Steinbeck (The Red Pony). My high school had me read Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath). My college had me read Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men). I thought he was great.

The New York Review of Books did a nice article on Steinbeck that opened as follows:

The extraordinary thing about John Steinbeck is how good he can be when so much of the time he’s so bad. There are talented writers who grow into their full maturity and then decline, slowly or precipitously. But that isn’t Steinbeck. You can divide his work up into coherent periods, but there’s no coherent trajectory of quality.

and goes on to make an argument that much of his output was not of great quality.

I enjoyed Steinbeck’s last work, a travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, another that my mother had me read, only to later discover claims by one of his sons and others that much of the contents were fabricated.

And so it goes.

I will literally be on vacation next Wednesday.

This Week

President Carter, Barbara Matusow Nelson and Terry Adamson will discuss the life and writings of journalist Jack Nelson, author of Scoop, Carter Presidential Library and Museum Theater, Wednesday, January 16th at 7pm, free.

Brad Taylor, author of Enemy of Mine, Peerless Book Store, Thursday, January 17th at 6:30 p.m., free.

Melissa de la Cruz, author of the Blue Bloods series, Little Shop of Stories, Wednesday, January 23rd at 7pm, free.

Coming Up

Al Gore, author of The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Friday, February 1st at 7pm, ticket information here.

6 thoughts on “It’s Literally Wednesday: A Nobel Discussion”


  1. As much as I admire Steinbeck I would have chosen Durrell. The Alexandria Quartet continues to fascinate me.

  2. Might as well list my favorite Steinbecks: Log From The Sea of Cortez and Cannery Row, one non-fiction, the other fiction and based on his friendship with marine biologist Ed Ricketts.

  3. Who’s the best American candidate for a Nobel in literature? (has been one since Toni Morrison, twenty years ago). Philip Roth? Don Delillo? Cormac McCarthy? Or perhaps a more “popular” but still “literary” writer like Anne Tyler?

    1. Toni Morrison was indeed the last U.S. citizen to with the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993, born in Ohio). In addition to Ms. Morrison, the other American winners in the past 50 years are the following: Joseph Brodsky (1987, born in the Soviet Union); Czeslaw Milosz (1980, born in Russian in what is now Poland); Isaac Singer (1978, born in Russia in what is now Poland); Saul Bellow (1976, born in Canada); and John Steinbeck (1962, born in California).
      That’s only two U.S. born writers in 50 years!

  4. A quick glance at the Wikipedia list of winners shows there has never been one from Canada. My guess is that might change soon with the selection of Alice Munro, the great short-story writer.

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