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Africans in the run for Nobel Literature Prize?

By Jojokhala Clarendon Mei

The literary world holds its breath to learn who pockets the whooping US$1,1 million 2020 Nobel Literature Prize today, Thursday October 8, 2020,  while celebrated producer Duma kaNdlovu campaigns for prolific US-based novelist and artist Professor Zakes Mda to clinch it. The continent’s biggest literature prize is the annual  US$100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize reserved for Nigerians. Can’t we South Africans match or surpass it?

Duma kaNdlovu was once exiled in New York, and announced his campaign at last year’s Durban, South Africa launch of Mda’s latest historic exile novel called The Zulus of New York. The international prestige of the Swedish Nobel Prize, awarded by the ruling Swedish Monarch most likely stems from its size, plus recognition of other exceptional worldwide work in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Peace, and Economics.

As a rule of thumb the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously, and any selection committee is free not to give the award in any given year.  Only four times since its 1901 inception has the Nobel Literature Prize in particular been shared by two writers at a go. Literature nominations are received and considered  by the independent cultural Swedish Academy to its own taste, but founded long before the Prize in 1786 to advance Swedish language and literature. Generally the award has been made to works in European languages, besides notably the 1968 prize going to Japanese language novelist Yasunari Kawabata, and the poetry of Indian poet Tagore who personally translated it into the English language. The citation even notes the grandeur of Tagore’s translation efforts from the  Bengali language.

The Literature Prize has been controversially shared by Scandinavian writers in its early years, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched, when in doubt over the African psyche, to pair long time favourite US-based Kenyan novelist and dramatist Ngugi waThiongo at the rostrum. Especially considering that the Prize is still recovering from the 2018 controversy over the husband of a committee member. The first time African winner in 1986 is South African novelist, short story writer, and political activist Nadine Gordimer who so happens to have given refuge to Prize Literature Committee member Per Wastberg in 1959 when he was expelled the then Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe)  next door. Other white winning writers J. M. Coetzee and Dorris Leasing have also notably mined with extra-ordinary sensibility the racist settler psyche.

It’s common for the other Nobel Prizes to be shared as Monday’s Nobel Prize for Medicine has already been by three doctors.

Nominations for the 2020 Nobel Literature Prize, which closed just over a year ago,  are only accepted from the committee itself, plus select academia and publishing organisations. Believe it or not. but the committee has in the past given one of its own the Prize. Perhaps like Nigerians? Thereafter it is up to the taste of committee members themselves who wins. US-based Nigerian dramatist Wole Soyinka is the only melanin-rich African to receive the Nobel Literature back in 1986 for dramatising settler sensibilities.

Today the 18-member Nobel Literature Committee announces the Prize, but sometimes a few seats at the table may be empty because members are not allowed to ever resign. If wishes were horses.

The Prize by Irving Wallace is an often hilarious but reverting spoof of the prizes when an imaginary alcoholic American widower is forced to travel to Stockholmto collect his prize with sister-in-law in tow. When in doubt the Committee should be of the mind to consider this book.

Two notable controversial winners of the Nobel Literature Prize is British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s six volumes The Second World War which I don’t regret losing in pieces; plus the Italian trade unionist Dario Fo’s definitive stage play The Death Of An Anarchist, which stands it’s own ground in the face of all protests.

The most controversial Nobel Literature Prize went to famous  English language American songwriter Bob Dylan. Yes, apparently for writing song lyrics, but more certainly for sensibly tapping a cultural sensibility the committee is curious about. Playwright Wole Soyinka said he should also get a Grammy Award for the songs in his stage plays.

The digital era is the next Star Trek frontier for the Nobel Literature Prize to crack, by giving first citizen of the world the Nobel Prize For Twitting. Think not?

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