Talk about home-court advantage. The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded in Stockholm yesterday, and the Swedish Academy gave it to Tomas Tranströmer, an elderly Swedish poet virtually unknown outside his homeland. The selection dashed hopes — raised by a flurry of last-minute speculation among Internet odds-makers — that this year’s prize would go to Bob Dylan instead.
Dylan would have been an inspired choice for the world’s most prestigious literary prize, albeit controversial to purists. He would have been the first songwriter to win the prize, and the first American since Toni Morrison.
It’s no offense to Tranströmer — who is reportedly loved by Swedish critics for his complex meditations on the tortured Nordic psyche — but the choice of another obscure writer was hardly courageous, and serves only to highlight the oft-noted gap between the literary establishment and the people who actually consume literature. One of Dylan’s childhood favorites, John Steinbeck, once won a Nobel Prize; it’s hard to imagine he’d even be considered today.
That’s not to say that popularity should rule - it’s probably for the best that the Swedes resisted the temptation to honor Stieg Larsson. But by dutifully awarding the Nobel year after year to obscure authors, they’re missing an opportunity to make a statement that literature can be more than an academic parlor game.