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16 Great Writers Snubbed by the Nobel Prize (PHOTOS)

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature is expected to be announced Thursday, and readers are eagerly gearing up for it. But the award is never given posthumously, which creates a dilemma for members of the Swedish Academy: they face the constant risk of failing to honor the best authors of their time. From Joyce to Tolstoy to Woolf, here are some of the giants of literature who passed away before they could be made a laureate. Plus, a gallery of the all the winners since 2000, and a primer on the top 10 favorites this year.

AP (2); Getty

AP (2); Getty

16 Great Writers Snubbed by the Nobel Prize

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature is expected to be announced Thursday, and readers are eagerly gearing up for it. But the award is never given posthumously, which creates a dilemma for members of the Swedish Academy: they face the constant risk of failing to honor the best authors of their time. From Joyce to Tolstoy to Woolf, here are some of the giants of literature who passed away before they could be made a laureate. Plus, a gallery of the all the winners since 2000, and a primer on the top 10 favorites this year.

Eduardo Di Baia/AP

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges was so perennially disappointed by the Nobel committee that he once said, "Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me." Borges’s perceived sympathy for Argentina’s fascist government and the dictator Augusto Pinochet is widely believed to have disqualified him.

Craig Ruttle/AP

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s death in March means that, despite his supporters calling for an unprecedented posthumous prize, his work will not be honored with a Nobel. Achebe was always too political and too outspoken in his criticism of Western writers—most famously Joseph Conrad—for the notoriously conservative Nobel judges.

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Roberto Bolaño

When Roberto Bolaño died in 2003, he was widely considered a genius in Latin America. However, he only achieved worldwide recognition when his opus 2666 was published a year later.

Kyodo /Landov

Kōbō Abe

The Japanese writer Kōbō Abe, famous for his brand of Kafkaesque stories, was tapped as the favorite for the 1993 prize, and had been nominated for a Nobel before. He died that January at the age of 68, and the prize went to Toni Morrison instead.

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Edith Wharton

Wharton was nominated three times between 1927 and 1930. Her own snub was not her only Nobel disappointment; in 1911 she led an unsuccessful campaign to get her friend Henry James the award.

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Paul Valéry

The French poet Paul Valéry was nominated a staggering 12 times between 1930 and 1945. The Swedish Academy, having finally accepted modernist poetry, planned to name him the 1945 winner. However, he died in July, and Gabriela Mistral was named the laureate.

Getty

Leo Tolstoy

Though Tolstoy was considered the greatest living writer in 1902, he was snubbed after saying of the lucrative award, “money brings nothing but evil.” He would be nominated three more times, but the insulted Swedish Academy never gave him the prize.

AP

Karel Čapek

Outspoken writers on either end of the political spectrum tend to spook the Nobel committee. Czech author and passionate anti-fascist Karel Čapek was passed over in the 1930s so as not to offend Hitler. Čapek was untroubled by the snub, saying to those that argued on his behalf, "Thank you for the good will, but I have already written my doctoral dissertation.”

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John Updike

The last American novelist to win a Nobel was Toni Morrison in 1993. In recent years, the Nobel committee has been accused of anti-Americanism. Updike, however, took his snub in stride, poking fun at the Swedes through his fictional Nobel laureate Henry Bech.

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Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov was nominated in 1974, but was ignored in favor of the obscure Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson. Both were on the Nobel committee at the time.

AP

James Joyce

The Nobel committee is notoriously resistant to experimental writers, and few are more experimental than Joyce. His work was too radical to be recognized in its time.

AP

Virginia Woolf

The difficulty of Virginia Woolf’s prose likely disqualified her from Nobel consideration. She was passed over in favor of the less challenging Pearl S. Buck in 1938.

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Lu Xun

When he heard he was being considered for the 1930 Nobel, Lu Xun wrote to a friend, "I think there is nobody truly deserving the Nobel Prize in China. It would be better for Sweden to ignore us. It would only encourage Chinese egotism, causing them to believe they could really parallel those great foreign writers.” The committee must have agreed; the award went to Sinclair Lewis.

AP

R.K. Narayan

Though shortlisted many times, R.K. Narayan was never named a laureate. Many have speculated he was neglected by the fickle committee for being apolitical. Fellow Indian V.S. Naipaul once criticized him as such.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

Carlos Fuentes

Mexico’s most heated literary feud was between Carlos Fuentes, a leftist. and his longtime rival Octavio Paz, a conservative. Only one was ever going to win the Nobel, and in 1990 it was awarded to Paz. The two men remained bitter enemies until Paz died in 1998.

AP

Willa Cather

Willa Cather was nominated alongside Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1930. It was widely considered time for an American to the Nobel; the committee agreed, but named Sinclair Lewis the laureate instead. Hemingway would get his Nobel, but Fitzgerald and Cather never did.