How Noble is the Nobel Prize?

Joan Baum

Indy’s own “Reading Our Region” columnist Joan Baum will be discussing “Nobel Laureates in Literature, up to Kazuo Ishiguro,” at East Hampton Library on Friday.

Among the five prizes provided for in Alfred Nobel’s will (1895), one was intended for the person who, in the literary field, had produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, an English novelist, screenwriter, and short-story writer born in Japan, won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. His contrasting predecessor, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, won the same award in 2016. The stark difference begs the question, what does it mean to win a literary award?

“That’s an interesting sequence; what do they have in common? I really want this talk to be a conversation. What is a Nobel designed to do? What is its mission?” she questioned.

Each guest will receive a list of all winners of The Nobel Prize in Literature from its origins in 1901 through today, to see how many of these names the audience actually knows.

Baum describes herself as a recovering academic, having taught literature and writing at the City University of New York for 20 years.

“I’m hoping that I can combine looking at some of Ishiguro’s novels, wondering if they’re worthy of a Nobel, and seeing if he has anything in common with Dylan. It’s going to be an odd pairing, but I think [it generates] similar themes about the value of an award and this particular award,” Baum added.

This discussion is timely. Earlier this month, the Swedish Academy announced that the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature would be postponed amid a sex scandal within the academy. It is the cultural institution responsible for evaluating the winners.

“There is a strong antiestablishment movement to give it to people who aren’t well known and to encourage, ‘What?’ And that’s what I’m trying to get the audience to discuss,” Baum explained.

As the most prestigious award for writing across the globe, does knowing who received it carry the same weight as the award itself? When pondering such an esteemed accolade, only one question comes to Baum’s mind, “Would I ever want to read it again?”

The talk will be held on Friday, May 18, from 5 to 7 PM.

To register, call 631-324-0222 ext 3.

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