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Hemingway and Melville: Ignorant?

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Wednesday, Oct 1, 2008

Ooh, to be Horace Engdahl this morning…


Engdahl is secretary of the Swedish Academy, the group responsible for selecting literary Nobel Prize winners. In a recent interview, as reported by the Independent, Engdahl referred to American literature as “isolated” and “insular”, further stating: “Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world.”


Did he really…?


He did, and the backlash has begun. New Yorker editor David Remnick is having a go, as is Harold Augenbraum, director of the US National Book Foundation. “I’ll send him a reading list,” Augenbraum is quoted as saying. (That’s my kind of threat.)


The larger issue here is the Nobel selection process, and just what US authors are supposed to assume upon hearing such grand dismissal from a key figure on the selection committee. An American author has not taken home a Nobel Prize for literature since Toni Morrison in 1993; Engdahl started on the prize committee just four years later… connection?


The latest winner will be annouced next week. Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth are said to be frontrunners. From the sounds of things, with all books in contention surely well and truly finished by Engdahl and his committee, the pair might rethink writing those just-in-case acceptance speeches.

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