On Thursday, October 13, the 109th Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded to one lucky writer, an announcement that has readers everywhere not only predicting who the award will go to, but wondering: who chooses the Noble Prize-winner in Literature to begin with? This year’s decision will be made by just seven people — known as the Nobel Committee for Literature, whose members are selected from the 18-member Swedish Academy, and who serve on the Nobel Committee for Literature for three subsequent years. Now, if all that raises more questions than it answers, read on, because I’m going to break all the facts down for you here.
Founded in 1786, the Swedish Academy is an 18-person organization that is made up of distinguished Swedish historians, legal scholars, linguists, literary scholars, poets, and writers whose membership in the Academy is for life (kind of like the U.S. Supreme Court, although perhaps not as frequently contested.) Since 1901, when the very first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded, the Noble Committee for Literature, a commission that has been specially-selected from current members of the Swedish Academy, has been held responsible for inviting qualified Noble nominators — aka: members of the Swedish Academy and other similar organizations, literature and linguistic professors, previous Noble Prize winners, and national leaders — to nominate writers for the Nobel Prize, selecting a shortlist of candidates from those nominated, and ultimately determining a winner. From an average of 15-20 preliminary candidates, the Committee winnows the list down to five, and then immerse themselves in each candidate’s impressive body of creative work. From there, one writer is chosen as the Nobel Laureate for that year.
This year’s Nobel Committee chair is Per Wästberg, a Swedish writer and nearly 20-year member of the Swedish Academy, whose writing life often converges with work that supports human rights. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Sweden's largest daily newspaper, the Dagens Nyheter, Wästberg also served as President of PEN International — an organization designed to promote global literature and defend worldwide freedom of expression — and was founder of the Swedish section of Amnesty International.
Other members of the 2016 Nobel Committee include the Swedish writers and professors Kjell Espmark and Anders Olsson, poet Kristina Lugn, and historian and critic Horace Engdahl. The Committee’s associate members are the writer and scholar Sara Danius, and poet Katarina Frostenson — all definitely worth a quick Google search if you’re wondering what kind of writing the writers who select the winning Nobel writer write. I know I was.
To watch the announcement of the 2016 Noble Prize in Literature live, head over to the Noble Prize website on October 13. So definitely stay tuned, and in the meantime, think about which of your favorite writers you would nominate.