The Nobel Prize for Literature: Who Could & Should Win

Writers who could win the Nobel Prize

It is Nobel Season! Sandeep and I wrote an article on who we think could and should win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2022, on Lit Hub. Head over there to read our thoughts on the limited comfort zone of the Nobel Committee, as well as the twelve great writers who we think should win. And then come back over here to read about 30+ more Nobel-worthy writers (who are all worth reading, whether or not they win).

13. Boubacar Boris Diop: Like Ngugi, Senegalese novelist Boris Diop switched from writing in English to writing in Wolof. We highly recommend reading his Doomi Golo, Hidden Notebooks. He also won the Neustadt this year.

14. Gerald Murnane: Australian writer Gerald Murnane seems to be quite obsessed with the artificial nature of fiction and how the reader processes what they read. Read Barley Patch or A Million Windows.

15. Antonio Lobo Antunes: Antunes is the grand old man of Portuguese literature. Close your eyes and pick.

16. Minae Mizumura: Japanese writer Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel is one our all-time favorite novels. A loose retelling of Wuthering Heights but better (a rare but blasphemous pronouncement, we know).

17. Peter Nadas: Get Hungarian writer Peter Nadas’A Book of Memories. If you don’t read it, you can use it as a doorstopper so the cat can get into the bedroom and snuggle up next to you.

18. Zakes Mda: Ngugi once told us about how South African writer Mda is one of the writers who has picked up the baton from him. Read his Madonna of Excelsior. A nuanced novel spanning both pre and post-apartheid South Africa.

19. Zoe Wicomb: Two South Africans have been awarded the Nobel. Both have been white. Like Mda (above), Wicomb beautifully navigates the post-colonial, post-apartheid era in her fiction. 

20. Enrique Vilas Matas: Spanish writer Enrique Vilas Matas is a personal favorite & a founding Knight of the ‘Order of the Finnegans’ (in honor of James Joyce). He is too much fun to read, so he may not win. Start with Because She Never Asked and Never an End to Paris

21. Mia Couto: Mozambiquan writer would add to the impressive list of white African writers who have won the Nobel (Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, Albert Camus). Since Black African writers tend to be outside the committee’s reading comfort zone.

22. Jenny Erpenbeck: German writer Jenny Erpenbeck is one to watch (we said that about Olga Tokarczuk in 2017 without realizing she would win the Nobel quite so soon after that). Read her Go Went Gone. 

23. Dag Solstad: We hesitated to put another Norwegian writer on this list. But what can we say, he is good. Lydia Davis learned Norwegian just from reading one of Solstad’s novels. Dag Solstad is Bunuel to Jon Fosse’ Bresson (We apologize if it seems strange to anchor writers you may not know by comparing them to filmmakers you may not know).

24. Ismail Kadare: Albanian writer Ismail Kadare is another one of those writers in the ‘why hasn’t he won yet?’ category. Give it to him already. Start with A Chronicle in Stone or Palace of Dreams.

25.Cees Nooteboom: Another favorite, Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom’s books keep going out of print. Read his Rituals or Lost Paradise before they become hard to find.

26. Cesar Aira:  Argentinian writer. There is no one like him. We repeat: There is no one like him. 

27. Yoko Tawada: While growing up in the 20th century, we dreamed that a lot of multilingual 21st-century writers would write in multiple languages. That didn’t seem to be happening very often. But the literary genius of Tawda did happen (she writes in both German and Japanese).

28. Nurruddin Farah: Naguib Mahfouz is the only Arab writer to have ever won a Nobel. Here is another Arab writer who should have won long ago.

29. Fleur Jaeggy: The band, Foreigner wrote the song ‘Cold as Ice’ after reading Jaeggy. At least, that is our fictional account of their inspiration.

30. Hwong Sok-Yong: Koreans have won the Oscars, Emmys, and Palme D’Or’s. Perhaps, it is time for one to win a Nobel? We nominate this extraordinary writer.

31. Geetanjali Shree: Dark horse to win the Nobel in the next few years. Might follow Olga Tokarczuk’s trajectory. India’s best writers are the ones who don’t write in English. Geetanjali Shree is one of them.

32. Mikhail Shishkin and 33. Ludmila Petrushevskaya: This is probably not the year that the committee will award a Russian writer. But these two are among our favorite living novelists writing in Russian.

34. Can Xue: Chinese surrealist. That should be enough of an invitation to go out and buy her books.

35. Patricia Grace: Patricia Grace is a New Zealand Maori writer who weaves Maori language into her English novels. Pick any novel and read.

36. Mircea Cartarescu: What Joyce did for DublinCartarescu has done for Bucharest. Romania’s most popular novelist, and one of the greatest living writers.

37. Tsi Tsi Dangarembga: Dangarembga is a Zimbabwean writer who has written a glorious trilogy. Her first in the trilogy, Nervous Conditions, is one of the great novels from Africa.

38. Gei Fei: Chinese writer Gei Fei is acclaimed for his originality. Read his Invisibility Cloak which is a provocative, social satire.

39. Dubravka Ugresic: All the bloggers, Twitterati, Bookstagrammers, and Tik Tokkers need to read Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic, to understand what funny and poignant social commentary sounds like. Read American Fictionary and Museum of Unconditional Surrender.

40. Sahar Khalifeh: After falling in love with Mahmoud Darwish’s writing, we had been searching for a female Palestinian novelist to love. Sahar Khalifeh is that novelist. Read her moving, My first & only Love.

41. Bei Dao: Chinese poet Bei Dao belongs to the group of Misty Poets. The fact that there exists a category named ‘Misty Poets’ makes us excited to be alive on this planet.

42. Salman Rushdie: Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie is perhaps a sentimental favorite this year. What happened to him this year is a stark reminder that brave novelists & poets will always make the zealots feel threatened.

43. Elias Khoury: Back in 2010, we heard Lebanese writer Elias Khoury speak on a panel at the LA Times Book Festival and we were intrigued – he was one of the most memorable voices there. We sought out his work very soon after. Try his Gate of the Sun.

44. Elena Poniatowska: French-born Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska is a legend. However it is hard to find good quality English translations of her work.

45. Hélène Cixous: A legendary French scholar and writer, Hélène Cixous remains relatively unknown in the English-speaking world.

46. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi: The December following the Trump election, we took refuge in a box showcasing great writers from Mexico, China, and Iran (Sergio Pitol – who has sadly since died, Can Xue, and Mahmoud Dowlatabadi). Kelidar is Iranian novelist Dowlatabadi’s great book, most popular with Iranians but not translated into English yet. So we would recommend reading The Colonel or Missing Soluch

47. Xi Xi: Hong Kong-based writer Xi Xi writes books that takes one back to the elemental, reviving in her readers the ability to look at things anew. 

Javier Marias – The great Javier Marias would have been on this list, but he sadly died earlier this month. The committee likely thought they had time to award him. We all likely think that the committee likely thought this. But who knows what they thought. It’s all very sad. Start with A Heart So White. Or All Souls.

Regular subscribers will recognize many of these writers from the Book Boxes that we have curated over the past seven years. Like any list, this list too is incomplete. And it is missing many more great writers from around the world. So please join this conversation, and share your own favorite writers from around the world, in the comment section.

Abdulrazak Gurnah was an interesting, surprising awardee, last year, who by most accounts deserves the prize. We hope this is the Nobel Committee’s new direction with, perhaps, a deemphasis on English as the ‘power’ language for non-Europeans.

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