Nobel Prize In Literature

The 2013 Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded to Canadian short-story master Alice Munro. Here's a breakdown of all the winners since 2000.

Imaginechina/Corbis; Getty (2)

Imaginechina/Corbis; Getty (2)

Nobel Prize Winners

The 2013 Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded to Canadian short-story master Alice Munro. From Mo Yan to Tomas Tranströmer to Gao Xingjian, here are all the winners since the year 2000.

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Alice Munro

The Canadian short-story writer crafts tightly constructed, finely tuned tales about life in southwestern Ontario. Munro won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and has twice won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction. She is the first Canada-based writer to win the Nobel, and has published 13 short-story collections, including her debut, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), which won her first Governor award, and The Progress of Love, which won the award exactly three decades later. Her final story collection, she said, was 2012's Dear Life, and she announced in June, 2013, that she had retired from writing.

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Mo Yan

"One of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers" has won the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature. He is known for authoring the novel which is the basis for the film Red Sorghum by Zhang Yimou. The Nobel committee said Mo is a novelist "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary." He was a nominee for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007 for Big Breasts and Wide Hips.

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Tomas Tranströmer

Scandinavia's best-known living poet, who lives in Stockholm, won the Nobel Prize in literature 2011. A trained psychologist, Tranströmer suggests that the poetic examination of nature offers insights into human identity and its spiritual dimension, which often enters metaphysical territory. He has written several books of poems, including, most famously, 1966’s Windows and Stones. His work, according to the Poetry Foundation, “build[s] on Modernism, Expressionism, and Surrealism, [and] contains powerful imagery concerned with issues of fragmentation and isolation.” He has been translated into 50 languages.

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Mario Vargas Llosa

The Peruvian writer's win was a surprise given that Vargas Llosa wasn’t considered a favorite. The author of The Time of the Hero, The Green House, and Conversation in the Cathedral "was chosen for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat." His books Captain Pantoja and the Special Service and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter have been made in to movies.

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Herta Mueller

Like many of the Nobel Laureates, Herta Müller is known for writing with a political bent. The 12th woman to win the prize, Müller, 56, is a Romanian-born author who emigrated to Germany from the then-communist country in 1987. The Romanian government censored her first book, a collection of short stories published in 1982 and titled Niederungen, or Lowlands, depicting life in a German-speaking Romanian village. The Nobel Prize committee honored her for writing that "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."

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Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

After several years of picking prominent writers, the Nobel committee chose a virtually unknown globetrotting Frenchman for the award in 2008. Many were left scrambling for details about this mysterious and prolific author, but some saw a natural choice, as a result of Le Clézio’s “attempts in much of his work to give voice to the non-European ‘other.’” Just before the prize was announced, Horace Engdahl, the head of the Swedish Academy, famously accused U.S. writers of being “too isolated, too insular.” Needless to say, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, and John Updike—who died a few months later—didn’t rise early for a victory call.

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Doris Lessing

Only the 11th woman to win the prize, Doris Lessing made her name with the iconic feminist novel The Golden Notebook, a psychological work about a leftist writer’s struggle to make sense of her fragmented world. As with Orhan Pamuk the year before, many critics were thrilled by her victory, while Christopher Hitchens wrote: “[It’s] almost intoxicating to the Nobel committee do something honorable and creditable for a change.” At the time of the award, she was 87, making her the oldest recipient of the prize yet, but she says winning was a “ bloody disaster” because it’s made it hard for her to continue writing.

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Orhan Pamuk

A longtime favorite for the prize, Pamuk finally won after several novels, most famously Snow, set in his native Turkey and addressing questions of religion, cosmopolitanism, and other timely issues. He was one of the few awardees of recent years whose victory was welcomed by almost everyone, except his own government, which put him on trial for “insulting Turkishness” after his comments on the Armenian massacres of 1915. Although the charges were dropped, Pamuk fled Turkey after death threats and now lives in New York, where he teaches at Columbia University.

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Harold Pinter

As famous for his political activism as for his plays, Harold Pinter won, many said, for both. When the Bush administration’s popularity had reached its nadir, the Nobel committee chose a man who was open in his visceral distrust of American power and said that “the U.S. supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War.” Politics aside, Pinter, who died in 2008, wrote some of the most important plays of the last 50 years. His wife, Antonia Fraser, has a memoir about their marriage.

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Elfriede Jelinek

When Elfriede Jelinek was awarded her Nobel Prize—and accepted it via video—reviews were mixed. A Swedish Academy member resigned in protest. Others cheered the pick, but many were puzzled, wondering who exactly Jelinek was. Like many previous laureates, the feminist author holds controversial political views: She was a longtime member of the Austrian Communist Party and remains a fierce critic of the Austrian bourgeoisie. The themes of much of her work (including her most famous book, The Piano Teacher, which was made into a movie, are sex and violence. The New York Times’ Joel Agee explains in his review of her novel Greed “that, under male hegemony, heterosexual relations are inherently violent and that women are scripted for self-extinction.” Well, you don’t win Nobel Prizes for chick lit.

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J.M. Coetzee

The South African author and two time Booker Prize winner is best known for Disgrace, a chilling novel about a brutal crime and its aftermath in post-apartheid South Africa. Coetzee famously lives an ascetic lifestyle, as writer Rian Malan describes: He is “a man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat. He cycles vast distances to keep fit and spends at least an hour at his writing-desk each morning, seven days a week. A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once.”

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Imre Kertész

Buchenwald survivor Imre Kertész’s best known novel, Fatelessness, is about a Hungarian teenager living in the concentration camps, though Kertész says the work is not autobiographical. His prize was awarded “for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.”

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V.S. Naipaul

When V.S. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize, the committee praised the Trinidad-born author of A House for Mr. Biswas, among many others, as the heir to Joseph Conrad, calling him “the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings.” Others have criticized Naipaul for promoting “colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies.” A famously difficult man, Naipaul was surprisingly forthcoming about his personal failings and terrible treatment of his wife in Patrick French’s recent, acclaimed biography, The World Is What It Is.

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Gao Xingjian

Chinese-born Gao Xingjian was “re-educated” during the Cultural Revolution before he immigrated to France in 1987. Before his award, Gao lived off his paintings while living in a working-class Parisian neighborhood. Soul Mountain, about a journey through rural China, is the author’s most famous novel. But because of a government ban, his works are little-known in his homeland.