Two Nobel prizes were given out in Literature this year — making it a first in the 118 year old history of this award, where prize money of more than US$910, 000 will be given to each winner. Last year the literature award was cancelled for scandals that rocked the academy.

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Olga Tokarcruz
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Peter Handke

The award for 2018 went to Polish authoress, Olga Tokarcruz  “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” according to the judges’ citation. The award for 2019 went to Austrian author Peter Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”.

However, earlier, Germany had revoked its decision to award him the Henrich Heine award.

While Poland celebrates the win of their much awarded authoress whose works centring on migration and cultural transition have reflected “local life, but at the same time inspired by maps and speculative thought, looking at life on Earth from above”, Peter Handke’s selection has fallen under much flak over his works that “defend” the Serbian dictator who had been charged with war crimes in1999 and jailed subsequently , Slobodan Milosevic.

Last year after the Nobel Prize was cancelled and an alternative Nobel Prize in Literature, also known as Academy Prize, was given to Marys Conde, a Guadeloupean ( a region of France in the Carribbean), this year the Nobel committee is announcing two awards as if to make up for lost time.

The award was first given in 1901, by the will of Alfred Nobel, to  “the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction”, judged to be French poet, Sully Prudhomme, that year. Tagore, VS Naipaul, Wole Soyinka, Kenzaburō Ōe,  Toni Morrison have been among the luminaries of this award. This year the winners will be announced on Thursday 10 October, 2019.

By Dr Meenakshi Malhotra

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Toni Morrison

What can you say about a writer who gave a voice and identity to a whole people — a group and a community whose silences are made to speak and sing in her books? A writer whose voice rang out with passion, courage and conviction  to detail the sub-human conditions in which her people had lived?  A trailblazer whose works depicted the toils and travails of a long suppressed people whose experiences were unrecorded in history books? A writer whose passionate courage helped her to articulate her convictions about the dehumanisation of a whole race?

Morrison was born in 1931 and grew up in a family atmosphere which provided a context for arousing a keen interest in the stories, narratives, folklore, myths and rituals of the African American community. This early interest is evident in the rich oral quality of her writings, its lyrical cadences and it’s measured and “layered polyphony’’. Later, she studied English and Classical Literature from Howard University in Washington D.C. where she acquired her BA degree. This was followed by a Masters from Cornell University in 1955.

Subsequently, she taught at Howard  University for two years. She also got married to a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison in 1958 and they had two sons, before divorcing in 1964.The next few years Morrison wrote, juggled teaching assignments and also did a twenty year stint with Random House as an Editor. This platform enabled her to identify writing talent and she was able to help many aspiring young African American writers to get published.

Wole Soyinka was the first Nigerian author, poet, playwright and essayist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He has taught in number of universities, including Cornell, Oxford, Harvard and Yale.

Soyinka had been living in America for twenty years before President Trump came to power. He was a scholar-in-residence at New York University’s Institute of African American Affairs when he tore up his green card. He said: “I had a horror of what is to come with Trump… I threw away the card and I have relocated, and I’m back to where I have always been.” He returned to Africa. 

On May 7 th, 1861, was born a man who left an indelible mark in the world of literature, philosophy, music, education and on the  lives of many people. He wrote the national anthem for at least two countries, India and Bangladesh, and influenced the writer of the national anthem of a third country, Sri Lanka.

Rabindranath Tagore, the first non- European Nobel prize winner, was a remarkable man. Despite having his songs picked for national anthems and providing inspiration to other national anthem writers, he was critical of a system that drew borders among men and created hatred or intolerance. He withdrew from the politics of nationalism. He wrote: “…my conviction (is) that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.”