10 things you need to know about the Nobel Prize for Literature

alicemunro.jpg Alice Munro at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto in 2009 (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)



The Nobel Prize for Literature has been around since 1901. The 109th recipient was named on October 10 -- and it was Canada's own Alice Munro!

But how much do you really know about the world's most prestigious (and richest) literary prize? Below is CBC Books' primer on the Nobel Prize for Literature!


1. The Nobel Prize for Literature is given to an author who has "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." Work can refer to an individual book but more often references an author's body of work as a whole.


2. The Nobel Prizes were established in 1895 by the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist who also happens to be the inventor of dynamite. Dynamite and the Nobel Prize weren't the only things Nobel invented: he held 350 patents. Fittingly, the synthetic element 102, nobelium, is named after him.


3. Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prize because he was concerned about his legacy. After all, he got rich thanks to an invention that could kill people. After his brother Ludvig passed away, a French newspaper accidentally published Alfred's obituary instead, which stated "The merchant of death is dead." This prompted Nobel to think about a lasting, positive impact he could make on the world -- and the Nobel Prize was born!


4. Alfred Nobel bequeathed 94 per cent of his assets in his will to establish the Nobel Prize. The sum of money given to each winner is determined each year by the Nobel Foundation. In 2012, it was 8 million Swedish krona, or approximately $1.3 million Canadian. If the same amount (or more) is awarded in 2013, this technically makes Alice Munro a millionaire!


5. Technically, Alice Munro isn't the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Canadian-born American writer Saul Bellow received the honour in 1976. Want to say Alice is the first "real" Canadian author to win the Nobel Prize? We won't stop you!


6. The Nobel Prizes are awarded every year on December 10, which is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death. The Peace Prize ceremony takes place in Oslo, Norway, and the rest of the prizes are presented at a ceremony in Stockholm.


7. The Nobel Prize has been around for 112 years, yet only 109 people have been given this honour. The Nobel Prize for Literature was not given out in 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943. The award has been shared between two people only four times: 1904, 1917, 1966 and 1974.


8. Two authors have refused to accept the award: Boris Pasternak did so in 1958 due to pressure from the Soviet government and Jean-Paul Sartre refused the award in 1964, because Sartre refused all the official awards he ever won. When Sartre refused the honour, he wrote "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."


9. Alice Munro is the thirteenth woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. This doesn't seem like a lot of female winners, but it's better than most of the other Nobel Prizes: Physics (two women), Chemistry (four), Physiology and Medicine (10). The Nobel Peace Prize has the most female winners, with 15. Marie Curie is the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes, winning for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.


10. Did you know that Mark Twain, James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy and Henry James never won the Nobel Prize for Literature -- but Winston Churchill did? The former British prime minister received the award in 1953 "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."






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