14 Books By Female Nobel Laureates In Literature That Belong On Your Reading List
Since 1901, there have been 114 writers honored with the Nobel Prize in literature, but only 14 of those laureates have been women. To celebrate their legacy, and to highlight the blatant gender imbalance among the literary winners, here are 14 books by female Nobel laureates in literature you should read A.S.A.P.
In 1909, children's author Selma Lagerlöf became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. It would be 17 years before another woman, Grazia Deledda, would take home the prize. The longest period between female Nobel Literature laureates measured 25 years, passing between Nelly Sachs in 1966 and Nadine Gordimer in 1991. The most recent woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature is Svetlana Alexievich, who took home the 2015 prize.
There will be no Nobel Prize in literature awarded in 2018, and it may even be 2020 before a new writer is named a Nobel laureate. Chaos upended the prize-granting Swedish Academy earlier this year — the academy's handling of sexual assault accusations against patron Jean-Claude Arnault — the husband of academy member Katarina Frostenson — resulted in the departure of several members, leaving the Swedish Academy with too few active voters to fill emptied seats.
There are plenty of books by Nobel Prize winners to read while we wait for the Swedish Academy to get its house in order, however. Check out the following list of 14 books by female Nobel literature laureates:
'The Wonderful Adventures of Nils' by Selma Lagerlöf (1909 Laureate)
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils follows Nils Holgersson, a little boy who is shrunken by a nisse — a farm spirit that looks a bit like a garden gnome — and flies away from his family's farm on the back of an escaped goose.
'After the Divorce, a Romance' by Grazia Deledda (1926 Laureate)
When he is falsely convicted of murder, Constantino does not contest the verdict, which he believes is his just punishment for not marrying his wife, Giovanna, in a church. Left impoverished by Constantino's imprisonment, Giovanna divorces her husband and marries a rich, but abusive, man. When Constantino is acquitted and released, however, he and his wife begin a new love affair.
'The Wreath' by Sigrid Undset (1928 Laureate)
The first of the Kristin Lavransdatter books, The Wreath centers on Kristin, the daughter of a 14th century nobleman, who falls in love, not with her betrothed, but with Erlend, a man who is already raising a family with another man's wife.
'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck (1938 Laureate)
The Good Earth begins with the marriage of Wang Lung and O-Lan, a poor farmer and a former household slave. Set around the turn of the 20th century, Pearl S. Buck's novel follows Wang Lung, O-Lan, and their children as they journey across China in search of a prosperous life.
'Madwomen' by Gabriela Mistral (1945 Laureate)
This bilingual poetry collection from Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral examines the lives and fortunes of women who are labelled as "crazy," but are often anything but.
'O the Chimneys' by Nelly Sachs (1966 Laureate)
Nelly Sachs wrote poetry and plays that explore her identity and experiences as a Jewish-German woman who escaped to Sweden in 1940. The title poem in O the Chimneys studies the smokestacks of Nazi death camps.
'July's People' by Nadine Gordimer (1991 Laureate)
Banned in South Africa upon its publication in 1981, Nadine Gordimer's July's People imagines a black populist uprising that overthrows the apartheid regime.
'Jazz' by Toni Morrison (1993 Laureate)
After her husband murders his mistress, Violet is unable to break through her husband's grief and win back his affections. She makes friends with Alice, the dead girl's aunt and legal guardian, trying to make sense of her changing world.
'View with a Grain of Sand' by Wislawa Szymborska (1996 Laureate)
This poetry collection from Wislawa Szymborska contains dozens of poems published between 1957 and 1993.
'The Piano Teacher' by Elfriede Jelinek (2004 Laureate)
This strange, often disturbing novel from Austrian laureate Elfriede Jelinek centers on Erika, a voyeur who lives with her controlling mother.
'The Golden Notebook' by Doris Lessing (2007 Laureate)
Following protagonist Anna Wulf throughout her life, The Golden Notebook consists of four segments, each named after the daybook Anna used in a particular time and place.
'The Land of Green Plums' by Herta Müller (2009 Laureate)
Set in Romania during the Ceauşescu regime, The Land of Green Plums revolves around four characters — Lola, Georg, Edgar, and Kurt — who wish to flee their home country for Germany.
'Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage' by Alice Munro (2013 Laureate)
The stories in this Booker Prize-winning collection examine the complicated relationships that form between individuals at different stages of life.
'Voices from Chernobyl' by Svetlana Alexievich (2015 Laureate)
In her oral history of the Chernobyl incident, Svetlana Alexievich explores the events of that fateful day in 1986, and the aftermath that left a region changed forever.