Alternatives to the Nobel Prize for Literature

There will be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018 due to the fallout from a scandal at the Swedish Academy. The academy has talked about awarding the 2018 prize in 2019 or later, "when the Swedish Academy has won back the public’s trust."

A New Academy was organized to provide an alternative: The New Prize in Literature. (They polled Swedish librarians for nominations.) It will be interesting to watch this process, but it's probably not a good sign that finalist Haruki Murakami withdrew from consideration. It begs some questions: why depend on Sweden to determine lifetime achievement in literature? And do we need a new prize rushed into existence to fill the void?

For those who look forward to the Nobel announcement for reading suggestions each fall, there are some excellent, well-established but lesser-known prizes at your service.

The Neustadt International Prize for Literature (based in Oklahoma), known as "the American Nobel," is the best place to explore for readers craving their Nobel fix. Established in 1969 and awarded every two years, it's a highly prestigious award for lifetime achievement that's open to poets, novelists and playwrights. Over 30 Neustadt laureates, candidates or jurors have gone on to win the Nobel Prize itself. The 2018 winner is Edwidge Danticat, perhaps best known for Breath, Eyes, Memory. The lists of past winners and finalists make for a feast of offerings to readers interested in world literature. (There is also a Neustadt award for children's literature.)

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize (based in Ohio) fascinatingly combines excellence in literature and the cause of peace (two separate categories under Nobel). Inaugurated in 2006 as an offshoot of the Dayton Peace Prize, it recognizes the power of the written word to promote peace. This year's winners are Salt Houses by Hala Alyan for fiction and We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nahesi Coates for nonfiction. (See the full write-up including runners-up and finalists.) John Irving won the 2018 Holbrooke Award for lifetime achievement. He is best-known for his novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. The list of past winners and runners-up is more focused on U.S. literature, but for fans of both the Nobel Literature and Peace Prizes, this is an interesting list to browse.


Explore more awards for literature, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (2018 winner: Solar Bones by Mike McCormack) and The Man Booker International Prize (2018 winner: Flights by Olga Tokarczuk), which give awards for specific books, not lifetime achievement, and are therefore good places to look for specific reading suggestions.

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