The 2016 Nobel Literature Prize was given to Bob Dylan, much to the chagrin of some and the joy of others. Regardless, Dylan is now part of an award that spans generations, genre, and form. What, unfortunately, has stayed very much the same about the award is that it is dominantly given to men — only 14 women have won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Since 1901, an award has been given every year, except for 1918, 1935, and 1940 through 1943. Still, only 14 women. The awards themselves have proven controversial beyond the gender element, as many people perceived Haruki Murakami as more deserving of this year's award. Which is to say these award decisions are not without dissension.
Of these 14 women, each has something different to offer. There's Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win the award back in 1909. There's Toni Morrison, the second black person (after Wole Soyinka) and first black woman to win the award, in 1993. There's Grazia Deledda and Sigrid Undset, who won in 1926 and 1928 respectively, only two years apart (a small gap the award's women winners, which is particularly powerful given the time).
Their stories are extraordinary and their work still shines. Listen to these women and keep working hard so that one day your name will be on the list beside theirs.
1. Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one’s ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone – the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there’s no fairness on earth."
2. Alice Munro, 2013 Nobel Literature Prize Winner.
"I have never kept diaries. I just remember a lot and am more self-centered than most people."
3. Herta Müller, 2009 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"Once upon a time they had some bad luck, and they blame everything on that."
4. Doris Lessing, 2007 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer."
5. Elfriede Jelinek, 2004 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"I do not fight against men, but against the system that is sexist."
6. Wislawa Szymborska, 1996 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"Any knowledge that doesn't lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life."
7. Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
8. Nadine Gordimer, 1991 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"Responsibility is what awaits outside the Eden of Creativity."
9. Nelly Sachs, 1966 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"We breathed the air of freedom without knowing the language or any person."
10. Gabriela Mistral, 1945 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"Love that stammers, that stutters, is apt to be the love that loves best."
11. Pearl Buck, 1938 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings."
12. Sigrid Undset, 1928 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"No one and nothing can harm us, child, except what we fear and love."
13. Grazia Deledda, 1926 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"According to an ancient Sardinian legend, the bodies of those who are born on Christmas Eve will never dissolve into dust but are preserved until the end of time."
14. Selma Lagerlöf, 1909 Nobel Literature Prize Winner
"If dead things love, if earth and water distinguish friends from enemies, I should like to possess their love. I should like the green earth not to feel my step as a heavy burden. I should like her to forgive that she for my sake is wounded by plough and harrow, and willingly to open for my dead body."
Images: Wikimedia Commons (7), Getty Images (7)