Who will win the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature? Here’s our guess

Who will win the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature? Here’s our guess

“Nobel Prize for Literature fatigue, decades in the making, has finally set in… let us see if baba @NgugiWaThiongo_ brings it home this year,” tweeted Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ, Kenyan-American poet, and son of East Africa’s leading novelist, on Tuesday. Mũkoma’s exasperation is palpable. It has been a long wait. His father, a perennial frontrunner for the prize, has come to be seen as a Nobel bridesmaid, like Haruki Murakami and Adonis, who have figured on the Ladbrokes list of contenders year after year after year.

Ngũgĩ is one of Africa’s greatest living writers. A novelist, playwright, short story writer and essayist, he has written mostly in his mother tongue Gikuyu in recent years and is known for the socialist undertones in his writing. He turned 84 this year. Will the Swedish Academy put an end to his prolonged wait or will he be left cooling his heels for as long as he is alive? We’ve no way of knowing.

Will the Nobel Committee, in Ngũgĩ’s stead, chose to honour Michel Houellebecq or Salman Rushdie, the two leading the race, according to Nicer Odds and Ladbrokes? Or, as it is wont to throwing a surprise, will it go ahead and award someone you and I have not even heard of, someone who has never been a contender? The Academy keeps its choices close to its chest: the records of nominations are kept secret for 50 years until they are made publicly available. So, again, we have no way of knowing. We can only keep guessing. Till the time the announcement is made today.

The case of African writers

Last year, nobody, not even the avid Nobel watchers, were able to predict that UK-based Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah would be the lucky one. They would not have known: Gurnah had never appeared as a contender on the betting sites, not even with odds of 100-1. Besides, he had been mostly known as an academic whose critical work — on Rushdie and Ngũgĩ, among others — had subsumed his identity as a novelist. Since the Nobel Prize has mostly been given to fiction writers, he stayed off everyone’s radar.

Days before the announcement of the 2021 winner, the two writers of East African origin whose names were doing the rounds among those tipped to be the possible winners were Ngũgĩ and Somalian novelist Nuruddin Farah. But it was the year that saw the Academy shun the obvious and go for the obscure.

Gurnah became the sixth writer from Africa to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for works that grapple with the legacy of colonialism, the nature of memory (he shows us how we reconstruct ourselves in the light of things that we remember), and the travails of migration; he also became the first non-White writer from Africa to win in nearly 30 years — no black African writer had won the prize since Wole Soyinka received it in 1986. It was seen as a significant moment for writing out of Africa. The year also South African writer Damon Galgut win the Booker Prize for his novel, The Promise —the third South African novelist to do so.

Also read: Salman Rushdie emerges as bookies’ favourite for Literature Nobel

What worked for Gurnah?

Days after Gurnah was anointed as the Noble laureate, Bloomsbury’s Alexandra Pringle, who has had twenty-year-long literary association with him, told this reporter that his recognition meant the world to her. He was one of the very first authors she had taken on when she became editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury. “I felt then, as I feel now, that he is one of the most significant writers I would work with. He has been recognised in many ways, always received favourable reviews, but I longed for him to get bigger international recognition,” Pringle had said.

During the years that she published him, she longed for him to be read widely. “I knew that these novels of his, these wonderful stories, had the potential to reach the hearts of thousands of people. These are the sorts of stories we need to read in order to understand the world we live in, the history we come from. Abdulrazak Gurnah combines fine writing with powerful storytelling, and this a magic combination,” she had said.

All 10 novels of Gurnah, as mentioned above, are deeply steeped in the ideas of memory, the legacy of colonialism, migration and displacement. Distinguishing his treatment of these themes from writers like Rushdie or JM Coetzee or Ngugi, about whom Gurnah has written extensively, Pringle said she saw him as a more “interior” writer. “His central concern has been how the lives of ordinary people are overturned by seismic political events. He cares deeply about the inner lives and hearts of his characters. He explores the secrets people keep over many, many years, the long, quiet pain of separation and alienation, the silences between people. He is an un-showy and precise writer, given to understatement. But at the same time his writing has a distinct poetry and a subtle wit,” she said.

Our pick from Africa:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: On October 3, 2021, days before the announcement, Pringle had written on social media: “After twenty years of publishing him [Abdulrazak Gurnah] and keeping the faith that his time will come, hope begins to seep away.’ Little did she know that just four days later he would win the Nobel Prize. One wishes — even though it seems highly unlikely — that something similar happens with Ngũgĩ’s son. And that hope doesn’t seep away for him.

Nuruddin Farah: Besides Ngũgĩ, there are a few more African writers who have emerged as favourites with the Bookies: Senegal’s Boubacar Boris Diop; Somalia’s Nuruddin Farah, Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Mozambican António Emílio Leite Couto, better known as Mia Couto; and two from South Africa, Ivan Vladislavić and Zoë Wicomb. While all of these are worthy names, I’d wager on Farah. Having burst on the literary scene in 1970 with his first m novel, From a Crooked Rib, he has been described as “one of the cornerstones of modern East African literature today.” “My novels are about states of exile; about women shivering in the cruel cold in a world ruled by men; about the commoner denied justice; about a torturer tortured by guilt, his own conscience; about a traitor betrayed,” Farah wrote in 1998.

Ama Ata Aidoo: She’s not among the bettors’ favourite. But the Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo has tremendous body of work: award-winning novels, plays, short stories, children’s books, and poetry. A trailblazer, she has influenced generations of African women writers, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Doreen Baingana, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, Taiye Selasi, NoViolet Bulawayo, and scores of other rising female literary stars out of Africa. In her endorsement of one of Aidoo’s works, Adichie wrote: “I occupy the space of a ‘Black African Happy Feminist’ because writers like Ama Ata Aidoo came before me. Her storytelling nurtured mine. Her worldview enlarged and validated mine.”

Also read: They finally got through to an unsuspecting Rushdie

Our picks from the United States

American writers outnumber writers from elsewhere on the bettors’ list of favourites. They include the who’s who of modern American fiction: Thomas Pynchon (85), Don DeLillo (85), Jamaica Kincaid (73), Stephen King (75), Colson Whitehead (52), Edmund White (82), Joyce Carol Oates (84), Martha Nussbaum (75), Robert Coover (90), Wendell Berry (88), William T. Vollmann (63) and Marilynne Robinson (78).

Cormac McCarthy: Remember the modern post-apocalyptic classic, The Road? McCarthy has written 11 other novels, besides plays, five screenplays and two short stories, spanning the Western and post-apocalyptic genres. Two of his recent novels, The Passenger and Stella Maris, will be out soon.

Garielle Lutz: A writer of fiction, Lutz came out as a transgender woman in 2021, which coincided with the publication of their book Worsted, a collection of 14 stories. Known for their inventive prose, Lutz has earlier published their work as Gary Lutz. If the Swedish Academy awards them, it would mean a great deal to the LGBTQI movement around the world. The same goes for Edmund White, the ‘paterfamilias of queer literature.’

Don DeLillo: His elliptical prose and dark vision have been admired by generations of readers. His postmodernist works portray the anomie of an America cosseted by material excess and stupefied by empty mass culture and politics, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Robert Coover: A novelist, short story writer, and T.B. Stowell Professor Emeritus in Literary Arts at Brown University, Coover is a writer of fabulation and meta-fiction. In his avant-garde fiction, plays, poetry, and essays, “experimental forms and techniques mix reality and illusion, frequently creating otherworldly and surreal situations and effects.”

Picks from elsewhere

Margaret Atwood: Canada’s Margaret Atwood, 82, is not on the list for some reason, but I’d be ecstatic if she wins. Ditto with Anne Carson. Russian writer and outspoken Kremlin critic Lyudmila Ulitskaya is seen as a potential candidate this year. Will the Academy take up the cudgels and send a “strong message” to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine?

Ismael Kadare: An important and essential writer that I would like to win is Albania’s Ismael Kadare, 86, who recently won the Neustadt Prize. Its citation read: “Kadare is the successor of Franz Kafka. No one since Kafka has delved into the infernal mechanism of totalitarian power and its impact on the human soul in as much hypnotic depth as Kadare.” Kadare is also a successor of a clutch of other literary stalwarts like Balzac, George Orwell, Nikolai Gogol, Gabriel García Márquez and Milan Kundera.

César Aira: French-Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun and Croatia’s Dubravka Ugresic are counted among the dark horse. Will either of them win? From Argentina and Haiti, César Aira and Edwidge Danticat, respectively, are on the list of bettors. Known for his irreverent and playful prose, Aira is counted among the most original and provocative writers in world literature. Having written over 70 books, he has been immensely prolific, too.

Milan Kundera: There are two writers from Czech Republic on the bettors’ list: Ivan Klíma (91) and Milan Kundera (93). The latter has figured in the race regularly ever since he was first proposed for the Nobel Prize in 1968. It’s a pity that he has still not received it. He has traversed diverse genres: fiction, poetry, plays, short stories, and essays. His ten novels refuse to be categorised into any neat ideological straitjacket. His writing, marked by frequent philosophical digressions, takes a leaf from the works of Nietzsche and Robert Musil.

Also read: Archives of pain: The ‘other trilogy’ that Hilary Mantel wrote

Besides these, let me run through some more writers who are the contenders this year and may win. From Jamaica and Germany, we have Linton Kwesi Johnson (70), a dub poet and activist, and novelist, playwright and essayist Botho Strauss (77), respectively. There are two writers from Iran: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (82), known for his “promotion of social and artistic freedom in contemporary Iran and his realist depictions of rural life, drawn from personal experience,” and Shahrnush Parsipur (76), an influential novelist, who has he has published eight books of fiction.

Besides Houellebecq, the French writers who are tipped to win include Pierre Michon, Annie Ernaux, Emmanuel Carrère, Hélène Cixous, Maryse Condé and Marie NDiaye. Norway has three contenders: Jon Fosse, Dag Solstad and Karl Ove Knausgaard. My money will be on the last, whom I’ve read with awe and look at with deep appreciation. Hungary’s László Krasznahorkai and Peter Nadas are strong contenders and may win the Nobel, sooner or later.

Then, there is David Grossman (68), one of the best-known writers from Israel, who has written numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature. The UK, besides India-born Rushdie, has Robert Macfarlane, Ali Smith and Martin Amis in the race. Edna O’Brien and Sebastian Barry are the Irish contenders while Gerald Murnane and Murray Bail are the two writers in the race from Australia. I don’t need to tell you about the Japanese contender, but here it is: Haruki Murakami. Will he ever win? My hope has swept away.

Romania and Italy have Mircea Cărtărescu and Claudio Magris. Croatia, Antigua and Mozambique have one each: Dubravka Ugrešić, Jamaica Kincaid, Mia Couto, respectively. There is Ryszard Krynicki from Poland and Scholastique Mukasonga from Rwanda. India, too, will have a shot at it with Amitav Ghosh in the race. Andrey Kurkov leads the Ukraine race and António Lobo Antunes is the contender from Portugal. There is one writer each from Mexico and Serbia: Homero Aridjis and Charles Simic.

South Korea is in the fray with bets on three writers: Claudia Lee Hae-in, Ko Un and Hwang Sok-yong. And China with four: Yan Lianke, Xi Xi, Can Xue and Yu Hua. Lastly, there are two writers from Syria: Zoë Wicomb and Salim Barakat. Who among these will win the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature? My guess is as good as yours.

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