January 8, 2016

Nobel Prize archive reveals list of losers, including Borges, Nabokov, Neruda and more



Vladimir Nabokov attempting to capture the elusive Nobel.

In 1965, the Swedish Academy selected the Soviet/Russian novelist Mikhail Sholokhov as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature—“for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don [And Quiet Flows the Don], he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people.” The controversial decision made Sholokhov the second Soviet citizen to receive the award (Ivan A. Bunin was the first, in 1933; Boris Pasternak refused the prize in 1958).

Yesterday, as reported by Alison Flood for The Guardian, the Academy revealed the 89 other writers who were in the running for the Nobel Prize that year. Unsurprisingly, the losers are great. (Trust us, we know some great losers.) The hitherto confidential list—the Academy keeps the names of contenders secret for fifty years after the announcement—is a veritable who’s who of important midcentury writers.

Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and Pablo Neruda were all contenders. As were W.H. Auden, Anna Ahkmatova, Martin Buber, Georges Simenon, Ezra Pound, and Theodor Adorno. Oh, and  Samuel Beckett is listed, too—he went on to win the prize four years later, in 1969.

Actually, many of the 1965 candidates went on to win the prize in later years—Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nelly Sachs in 1966, Miguel Ángel Asturias Rosales in 1967, Pablo Neruda in 1971, and Heinrich Böll in 1972. Again, this isn’t surprising. What is surprising, however, is that the prize ultimately eluded Vladimir Nabokov, W.H. Auden, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Colm Tóibín, writing for the London Review of Books, notes that Borges, in particular, was “much tortured … by the possibility of winning the Nobel prize. On the day of the announcement journalists would queue outside his door. This would happen year after year. The news each time that he had not won would make him very sad.”

For more Nobel Prize losers (read: winners), visit the Nomination Archive here.




Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.