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Nobel Prize In Literature Is Out Of Reach For Most Authors


The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced later this morning, and Svetlana Alexievich is the front-runner. She is at least the favorite of the betting crowd, according to a British bookmaking agency. She's had a remarkable career whether she wins or not. She has written about the history of the former Soviet Union, focusing on disasters like the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. The bettors are gambling on whether she receives an honor that has gone so far to 107 writers, ranging from Winston Churchill, to William Faulkner, to Doris Lessing. But never mind them. What about everybody else, all the other writers? As we await this announcement, we revisit these thoughts from an NPR's Lynn Neary about writers who will never win a Nobel.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: When people win big awards - the Oscars, the Tony's, the Grammys - they always act surprised.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, my God, thank you!


NEARY: Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, was a tad more subdued when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.


MARIO VARGAS LLOSA: For a moment, I thought that this could be a joke of a friend. But 14 minutes later, I discovered that it was real.

NEARY: Exactly 14 minutes? Anyway, a lot of writers never get calls like that, and some of them are pretty big deals.


CRAIG FERGUSON: My first guest tonight is a legendary author, an American genius, an icon of the literary world...

NEARY: That's talk show host Craig Ferguson introducing - Stephen King? Well, think about it; who's bigger than Stephen King? But King once said he had to pay to go to the National Book Awards because no one ever invited him. He finally was invited, and he got an award for his contribution to American Letters. Some in the literary world howled, and King told the gathering he used to think there was a conspiracy against non-literary writers like him.


STEPHEN KING: Even a note on the acknowledgments page of a novel, thanking the this-or-that foundation for its generous assistance, was enough to set me off. I knew what it meant, I told my wife. It was the old boy network at work...

NEARY: So what if the literary establishment doesn't reward certain kinds of writers with awards? Some of those authors may just have to get their validation elsewhere. Maybe they have to settle for big bucks and massive popularity.


TOM CRUISE: (As Jack) What are you, a cop? Call her out, Gary.

DYLAN KUSSMAN: (As Gary) I'm going to need to see some I.D.

CRUISE: (As Jack) Go get Sandy.

KUSSMAN: (As Gary) Well, I need to see something.

CRUISE: (As Jack) How about the inside of an ambulance?

NEARY: That was Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher, the literary creation of author Lee Child. He's one of those writers who turns out a bestseller every year. He won't get a Nobel. For that matter, neither will comedian-turned-writer Chelsea Handler, who, coincidentally, also appeared on the Craig Ferguson show.


FERGUSON: Yes, your book, of course - it's number one on The New York Times...



FERGUSON: That's great.

HANDLER: I know.

FERGUSON: It's - you're the new Salman Rushdie.

HANDLER: I'm very similar to Salman Rushdie. I like salmon, actually - the food...

NEARY: It's not that the Nobel committee doesn't have a sense of humor. Though, there is no evidence of it. It's just that it tends to favor writers who are both literary and political. Chelsea Handler freely admits she doesn't have such big ambitions when it comes to her writing.

HANDLER: There's no better feeling than to see someone else hysterically laughing, when they can't contain themselves. And we've all had that, where you really think you're going to pee. That's what I want people to be doing.

NEARY: When they read your books.


NEARY: (Laughter).

Of course, Handler is in pretty good company. Among the many writers who have been spurned by the Nobel, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce - you get the idea. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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