Women Writers Winning

Who are the best writers in the world? In other words, how on earth do they decide the author to give the Nobel Prize for Literature? Well, writing in a European language gives a decided boost to your text getting considered. Historically, French is number one, English is number 3, and Spanish is number 4 in number of wins. Writers are nominated by academics and a Swedish committee of 18 members makes the final decision every October since 1900. Well, almost every year, minus 15, including this one. They’ll skip 2018, if you want the sordid details, they’re ugly and here.

In 117 years, fourteen women worldwide have won the Nobel Literature prize and one hundred men. Should we look up what percentage of women have won the award? No, wait, let me guess, women make up a bit less than 14% of the winners! Yes, 12% to be exact. I wonder if women are producing less work, lower quality work, or the Emperor’s New Clothes…

Moving on, who are these amazing women writers of the world who beat the odds? Announcing all fourteen of the female Nobel Prize Winners, drum roll please:

2015  Svetlana Alexievich, Ukraine
2013  Alice Munro, Canada
2009  Herta Müller, Romania
2007  Doris Lessing, Persia (Iran)
2004  Elfriede Jelinek, Austria
1996  Wislawa Szymborska, Poland
1993  Toni Morrison, United States
1991  Nadine Gordimer, South Africa (caucasian)
1966  Nelly Sachs, Germany then Sweden
1945  Gabriela Mistral, Chile
1938  Pearl Buck, United States
1928  Sigrid Undset, Denmark
1926  Grazia Deledda, Italy
1909  Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf, Sweden

From my research I see Chile is the only country where the wins of women and men are equal, one each, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. In the United States, nearly 17 percent of the Nobel Literature wins have been by women. Not great, but it could be worse, right? Although, that is only 2 women and 10 men. Good thing we’re writing in English so we get noticed, but boo-hoo, our language category is number three in the number of prizes won. Gosh we hate getting the bronze!

In good news, the pace of women’s writing receiving Nobel prizes is increasing. Interestingly, there are also significantly more on the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee now than the first 90 years. Selma Lagerlöf was the lone female in the group from 1914 to 1940. Could it be a coincidence that in the 38 years between the end of her participation and the beginning of Kerstin Ekman’s term in 1978, only two women were deserving of the Nobel Literature honor? Fortunately, since 1993 ladies are 1/3 of the members of the Swedish Committee. Look, magically eight years is the longest period between awards for writing penned by maids or maidens since then.

If you were on the Swedish Committee, what nominations would you like to see for 2019? Who are your favorite writers, male or female? People of color are as under-represented as women in the 117 years of the prize. Who would you add to this list?

Gracias for reading! Olé! -Rebecca

Para leer este ensayo en español, haz un clic aquí. Gracias.

Rebecca Cuningham

17 thoughts on “Women Writers Winning

  1. An excellent survey. First we have to get more women nominated. However that works. Maybe there should equality in gender numbers on the committee

    Liked by 2 people

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