• Sweden's news in English

Passions and politeness: how to award a Nobel

AFP · 10 Oct 2007, 21:30

Published: 10 Oct 2007 21:30 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"Sometimes it is very intense. I tell you, it is not an unanimous body," Horace Engdahl, the Academy's permanent secretary told AFP in an interview.

This year's Nobel Literature Prize will be announced on Thursday.

"You never know in advance what will happen. Inside the Academy, it is never certain who the winner will be until the very last moment," he said.

"We stay polite, but it is passionate. Some strange things happen when you discuss literature," he added with a smile.

Engdahl, who has headed the 18-member Academy since 1999, is at 58 one of the youngest members. Most of the members, who are named for life, are in their seventies or eighties.

And while he is one of the most respected figures in Sweden's culture circles, he does not have the deciding vote over the choice of the Nobel laureate.

"In Sweden I am sometimes seen as a dictator who imposes his will on the Academy. This could not be further from the truth. I represent the Academy but I have only one voice. I cannot sway the others," he said.

He has not always agreed with the Academy's final choice, but he is bound by secrecy and discloses no names. But once the votes are cast and the decision is made, the members present a unanimous front.

Engdahl said he regretted that some writers had never won the Nobel but would only comment on those in the distant past: he lamented the fact that French poet Paul Valery was never honoured, and that Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges' nomination was discarded.

Some believe that Borges, the author of "The Book of Sand", was rejected because of political considerations, but Engdahl dismissed that theory.

"Politics is never discussed," he stressed.

The Academy's deliberations begin each year in February, when a committee of four or five members begin wading through the list of 200 or 300 writers nominated by other academies and literary institutes around the world.

Between April and June the list is cut down to about 20 names.

The committee tries to read the authors' works in the original language as much as possible – its main languages are French, English, Russian and German – but otherwise translators are used.

"Sometimes we ask for a translation. They have to swear to secrecy," he said, adding that the committee had in recent years resorted to a translator to understand the works of a poet.

"In poetry I think it is crucial. They came and read in front of us to explain the subtleties of the language," he said.

Before the Academy breaks for the summer holidays, the committee proposes a short list of about five names to the other members – and all of the members are to then spend the summer poring over the five writers' entire bodies of work.

"In theory," said Engdahl, yet another smile creeping across his lips.

In September, lengthy discussions are held in the Academy's plenary sessions and voting begins. Secret ballots are held until a winner is chosen by absolute majority, though usually no more than two rounds are necessary.

While the Academy officially has 18 members, only 15 will vote in this year's selection: two members are boycotting the Academy because of disputes with their colleagues, and a deceased member has yet to be replaced.

The choice of the Nobel laureate is always a well-guarded secret up until the big announcement. Well, almost always.

Story continues below…

Engdahl admitted it has almost become an obsession of his to put an end to leaks which in the past have "come from inside".

"The rules are very strict and even stricter since I became the secretary," he said.

"We are not allowed to discuss writers in public, to be seen with books in public. If we talk amongst us in public places, we must use codes names for the writers," he said.

As a result, the 2005 laureate Harold Pinter was codenamed Harry Potter.

The secrecy of it all can't help but fuel speculation in the media in the run-up to the announcement.

"It makes us smile when we see the speculation. They are always wrong," he chuckled.

By AFP's Francis Kohn

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Meet Sweden's lonely Donald Trump voter
A Donald Trump campaign button. Photo: Rogelio V Solis/AP

The Local talks to an American Donald Trump supporter on what it is like living in progressive stronghold Sweden.

Forgotten Ingmar Bergman script to be made into a film
It's thought the script was part of an ill-fated collaboration between Bergman (left) and Federico Fellini (right). Photo: AP

Written in 1969, the script is 'up to the standard of his best', according to the Ingmar Bergman Foundation.

Sweden's consumption footprint 'among the worst'
Trucks transporting goods on a Swedish highway. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden has been criticized for its unsustainable consumption of the planet's resources in the latest edition of a major WWF study.

Video: How to be Joel Kinnaman for a day
Kinnaman with one of the camera rigs that will allow people inside his head. Photo: Tele2

The Swedish Hollywood actor will strap a camera to his head, stream it live and allow viewers to interact with him this weekend.

Presented by Invest Stockholm
How Stockholm's cold climate boosts creativity
Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

Do long, dark winters actually make Swedes more creative and more productive? We spoke to Stockholm startups to find out.

Sweden to keep record-low interest rate in 2017
Sweden's landmark negative interest rate will continue towards 2018. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The Swedish central bank said that it will take longer than expected to reach its inflation target.

Presented by Stockholm University
9 unexpected programmes at Stockholm University
Photo: Niklas Björling

Did you know Stockholm University offers 75 master's programmes taught in English? And some of them are programmes you won't find anywhere else...

Creepy clown messes with the wrong dog walker in Sweden
Not the clown in the story. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A dog helped its owner fight off a creepy clown chasing the pair in southern Sweden.

A million Swedes are digitally excluded: report
How should Sweden bridge the digital divide? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Tech-savvy Swedes? Perhaps not. A new study suggests that at least a million of its residents feel the pain of the digital divide.

Malmö's 19th Swedish title sets Champions hopes alight
Malmö fans celebrating after the match. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

Malmö FF have their eyes set on the Champions League after winning the Swedish league for the 19th time.

Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
People-watching: October 26th
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast
Is Game of Thrones coming to Sweden?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available