Breaking down the list of Nobel Prize in Literature winners by country forces you to confront the fact that you know nothing about literary prizes. Just think about it. The countries we tend to think are the most literary — such as Iceland and Japan — don't really have that many native Nobel Prize in Literature winners. Unexpectedly, the nations that gave us Halldór Laxness and Haruki Murakami are beaten out by Italy and Poland, among others.
2016 shook up everyone's Nobel Prize in Literature expectations. Haruki Murakami was a longtime favorite to win the coveted honor, but dark horse Bob Dylan scooped up the prize instead, prompting an understandably relieved reaction from netizens who thought the year had claimed another beloved musician when they saw his name appear in trending news.
Sorting the list of Nobel Prize in Literature winners by country also offers an eye-opening look at how the world prioritizes particular types of literature and values writers of certain origins over others. India, Iran, Madagascar, and Algeria are represented by Rudyard Kipling, Doris Lessing, Claude Simon, and Albert Camus — colonizers — instead of indigenous individuals. Although no one can choose where, when, or how they are born, that these white authors have been chosen by the Swedish Academy to represent Asian and African countries reflects a wider problem of whitewashing.
Here are the Nobel Prize in Literature winners, broken down by country.
1. France, 11
- Sully Prudhomme in 1901, "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect."
- Frédéric Mistral in 1904, "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist."
- Romain Rolland in 1915, "as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings."
- Anatole France in 1921, "in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament."
- Henri Bergson in 1927, "in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented."
- Roger Martin du Gard in 1937, "for the artistic power and truth with which he has depicted human conflict as well as some fundamental aspects of contemporary life in his novel-cycle Les Thibault."
- André Paul Guillaume Gide in 1947, "for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight."
- François Mauriac in 1952, "for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life."
- Jean-Paul Sartre in 1964, "for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age."
- Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio in 2008, "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."
- Patrick Modiano in 2014, "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation."
2. U.S., 9
- Sinclair Lewis in 1930, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters."
- Eugene Gladstone O'Neill in 1936, "for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy."
- Pearl Buck in 1938, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."
- Thomas Stearns Eliot in 1948, "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry."
- William Faulkner in 1949, "for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel."
- Ernest Miller Hemingway in 1954, "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style."
- John Steinbeck in 1962, "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception."
- Toni Morrison in 1993, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."
- Bob Dylan in 2016, "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."
3. Germany, 8
- Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen in 1902, "the greatest living master of the art of historical writing, with special reference to his monumental work, A History of Rome."
- Rudolf Eucken in 1908, "in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life."
- Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse in 1910, "as a tribute to the consummate artistry, permeated with idealism, which he has demonstrated during his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories."
- Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann in 1912, "primarily in recognition of his fruitful, varied and outstanding production in the realm of dramatic art."
- Thomas Mann in 1929, "principally for his great novel, Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature."
- Hermann Hesse in 1946, "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style."
- Nelly Sachs in 1966, "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength."
- Heinrich Böll in 1972, "for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature."
4. Sweden 7 (tie)
- Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf in 1909, "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings."
- Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam in 1916, "in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature."
- Erik Axel Karlfeldt in 1931, posthumously, for his poetry.
- Pär Fabian Lagerkvist in 1951, "for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavours in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind."
- Harry Martinson in 1974, "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos."
- Eyvind Johnson in 1974, "for a narrative art, far-seeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom."
- Tomas Tranströmer in 2011, "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."
4. U.K., 7 (tie)
- John Galsworthy in 1932, "for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga."
- Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell in 1950, "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought."
- Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill in 1953, "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."
- Patrick White in 1973, "for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature."
- William Golding in 1983, "for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today."
- Seamus Heaney in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
- Harold Pinter in 2005, "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."
6. Italy, 6
- Giosuè Carducci in 1906, "not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces."
- Grazia Deledda in 1926, "for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general."
- Luigi Pirandello in 1934, "for his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art."
- Salvatore Quasimodo in 1959, "for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times."
- Eugenio Montale in 1975, "for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions."
- Dario Fo in 1997, "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."
7. Poland, 5 (tie)
- Henryk Sienkiewicz in 1905, "because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer."
- Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont in 1924, "for his great national epic, The Peasants."
- Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1978, "for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life."
- Wislawa Szymborska in 1996, "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality."
- Günter Grass in 1999, "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history."
7. Russian Federation, 5 (tie)
- Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin in 1933, "for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing."
- Boris Leonidovich Pasternak in 1958, "for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition."
- Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov in 1965, "for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people."
- Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn in 1970, "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."
- Joseph Brodsky in 1987, "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity."
7. Spain, 5 (tie)
- José Echegaray y Eizaguirre in 1904, "in recognition of the numerous and brilliant compositions which, in an individual and original manner, have revived the great traditions of the Spanish drama."
- Jacinto Benavente in 1922, "for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama."
- Juan Ramón Jiménez in 1956, "for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity."
- Vicente Aleixandre in 1977, "for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man's condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars."
- Camilo José Cela in 1989, "for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability."
10. Denmark, 4
- Henrik Pontoppidan in 1917, "for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark."
- Karl Adolph Gjellerup in 1917, "for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals."
- Sigrid Undset in 1928, "principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages."
- Johannes Vilhelm Jensen in 1944, "for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style."
11. Ireland, 3
- William Butler Yeats in 1923, "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation."
- George Bernard Shaw in 1925, "for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty."
- Samuel Beckett in 1969, "for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation."
12. Canada, 2 (tie)
- Saul Bellow in 1976, "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."
- Alice Munro in 2013, "master of the contemporary short story."
12. Chile, 2 (tie)
- Gabriela Mistral in 1945, "for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world."
- Pablo Neruda in 1971, "for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams."
12. China, 2 (tie)
- Gao Xingjian in 2000, "for an æuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama."
- Mo Yan in 2012, "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary."
12. India, 2 (tie)
- Rudyard Kipling in 1907, "in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author."
- Rabindranath Tagore in 1913, "because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West."
12. Japan, 2 (tie)
- Yasunari Kawabata in 1968, "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind."
- Kenzaburo Oe in 1994, "who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today."
12. Norway, 2 (tie)
- Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson in 1903, "as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit."
- Knut Pedersen Hamsun in 1920, "for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil."
12. South Africa, 2 (tie)
- Nadine Gordimer in 1991, "who through her magnificent epic writing has — in the words of Alfred Nobel — been of very great benefit to humanity."
- John M. Coetzee in 2003, "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."
12. Turkey, 2 (tie)
- Giorgos Seferis in 1963, "for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture."
- Orhan Pamuk in 2006, "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
12. Ukraine, 2 (tie)
- Shmuel Yosef Agnon in 1966, "for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people."
- Svetlana Alexievich in 2015, "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."
21. Algeria, 1 (tie)
- Albert Camus in 1957, "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times."
21. Bulgaria, 1 (tie)
- Elias Canetti in 1981, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power."
21. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1 (tie)
- Ivo Andric in 1961, "for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country."
21. Czech Republic, 1 (tie)
- Jaroslav Seifert in 1984, "for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man."
21. Colombia, 1 (tie)
- Gabriel García Márquez in 1982, "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."
21. Egypt, 1 (tie)
- Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, "who, through works rich in nuance — now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous — has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind."
21. Finland, 1 (tie)
- Frans Eemil Sillanpää in 1939, "for his deep understanding of his country's peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature."
21. Greece, 1 (tie)
- Odysseus Elytis in 1979, "for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness."
21. Guatemala, 1 (tie)
- Miguel Angel Asturias in 1967, "for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America."
21. Hungary, 1 (tie)
- Imre Kertész in 2002, "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
21. Iceland, 1 (tie)
- Halldór Kiljan Laxness in 1955, "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland."
21. Iran, 1 (tie)
- Doris Lessing in 2007, "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny."
21. Lithuania, 1 (tie)
- Czeslaw Milosz in 1980, "who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts."
21. Madagascar, 1 (tie)
- Claude Simon in 1985, "who in his novel combines the poet's and the painter's creativeness with a deepened awareness of time in the depiction of the human condition."
21. Mexico, 1 (tie)
- Octavio Paz in 1990, "for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."
21. Nigeria, 1 (tie)
- Wole Soyinka in 1986, "who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence."
21. Peru, 1 (tie)
- Mario Vargas Llosa in 2010, "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat."
21. Portugal, 1 (tie)
- José Saramago in 1998, "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality."
21. Romania, 1 (tie)
- Herta Müller in 2009, "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."
21. Switzerland, 1 (tie)
- Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler in 1919, "in special appreciation of his epic, Olympian Spring."
21. Trinidad and Tobago, 1 (tie)
- Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul in 2001, "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."