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Nobel Literature Prize: could a new twist win over tradition?


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STOCKHOLM, Sept 29 (AFP) - The Nobel Literature Prize has for decades gone to fiction writers and poets, but just days before this year's winner is revealed some say the prestigious prize could be awarded within a different genre altogether.

While the list of usual suspects appears to be largely the same as in recent years, featuring US novelists Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, Ismael Kadare of Albania, Israeli Amos Oz and Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer, the Swedish Academy might just have a surprise in store this year.

"The Academy has spoken of wanting to broaden the prize, which could open the door for instance for literary journalists like Polish Ryszard Kapuscinski, " said Eva Bonnier, head of Sweden's Bonnier publishing house.

"Kapuscinski is a possibility. It would be very exciting if the Academy decides to go in that direction," agreed Ola Larsmo, a freelance literary critic who writes for Sweden's paper of record Dagens Nyheter.

He acknowledged however that "there are no clear-cut signs that this will happen", pointing out that the Academy has been tight-lipped about this year's laureate ahead of the announcement, expected on October 6 or the Thursday after.

If the Academy does decide to embrace a new genre, Larsmo said a prominent literary critic might also win.

"Someone like Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot or Susan Sontag. But they are all dead now (and the prize cannot be awarded posthumously), so I'm not quite sure who would be the most appropriate candidate today."

Head of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl acknowledged that "it is important that the prize develops as literature develops".

And if the award ends up going to a non-fiction writer it would not be the first time, he said, pointing out that Alfred Nobel did not specify in his will that it had to go to a fiction writer.

Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, several non-fiction writers and non-poets have won, including Bertrand Russell in 1950 for his philosophical writings and Winston Churchill three years later for his historical texts.

"It's been a long time since the prize has gone to someone like that. Esthetic literature has dominated because, I think, the modernist trend has been to frown upon scientific literature," Engdahl told AFP, adding that it might be time to reevaluate the scope of the award.

Once prone to leaks, the Academy has in recent years been careful not to let the laureate's name slip out in advance.

"We have a very strict discipline now. No documents leave the building and the (Academy) members are not allowed to discuss the choice by email or with members of their family. So far this year, I have not seen any sign that there is a leak," Engdahl said.

As an indication that the system works, controversial Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek's name was not even mentioned among the possible laureates before she won the prize last year.

"I think this year's choice will be a much more expected choice than last year. Jelinek was extremely unexpected," observed Svante Weyler, the former head of Sweden's largest publishing house, Norstedt.

"The Academy tends to like to mix the expected with the unexpected choices, " he said, putting his money on the likes of Roth, Oz and Algerian novelist, poet and filmmaker Assia Djebar.

Other clear candidates, according to Bonnier, include Dutch-language authors Cees Nooteboom and Hugo Claus, Somalia's Nuruddin Farah and Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri.

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, who was recently charged in Turkey with "public denigration of the Turkish identity" for remarks he made about the country's massacre of Armenians, might also win the award, Weyler said.

"Pamuk is an obvious candidate," he said, adding however that the 53-year-old author's young age may count against him.

"The Academy may not want to give the prize to another young author" after honoring 57-year-old Jelinek.

Also making an older winner more likely is an Academy rule that it never gives the prize to someone figuring for the first time on its short-list of five potential winners.

"Candidates must figure on the short-list at least two years running to win, " Engdahl said, insisting that the final vote is not influenced by considerations such as gender or geography.

"Fortunately it's not about such silly demands for fairness and balance but about good books," Larsmo said.

"The Academy is a bit unpredictable, and that's a good thing. The more unpredictable they are the better it is for literature," he added.

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COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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