STOCKHOLM, Sweden, (AP) -A Syrian poet was favored to win the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, but the Swedish Academy was offering no clues, and the oddsmakers often prove wrong.
The 220-year-old Swedish Academy, which has handed out literature’s top prize since 1901, had five candidates on its short list, drawn from hundreds of nominations sent by invitation only.
No one knew who those five were. But critics and pundits eagerly rolled out their best guesses.
British-based bookmaker Ladbrokes gave its shortest odds to Ali Ahmad Said, known as Adonis. He was followed by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk and American Joyce Carol Oates.
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and Swedish author Thomas Transtromer also were top bets, along with American Philip Roth and Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.
Of the five finalists, only the winner will be revealed; the other four names are kept secret for 50 years.
One thing is for sure, critics say. Nobel literature laureates have been getting edgier and more controversial, and the academy’s choice often bring its share of criticism.
In 2004, Austrian Elfriede Jelinek won for what the academy described as her talent for revealing “the absurdity of society’s cliches and their subjugating power.”
Her detractors said her work, known for its frank descriptions of sexuality, pathos and conflict between men and women, was distasteful and unworthy of such a prestigious award.
“I think the prize has become more interesting than it was 10, 15 years ago. It is more surprising, and they also dare to give it to authors who could be controversial,” said Pelle Andersson, a literature critic for Sweden’s biggest daily, Aftonbladet.
Last year’s winner, British playwright Harold Pinter, was a vociferous critic of U.S. foreign policy. His win, inevitably, prompted accusations that the academy was anti-American, left-leaning and politically motivated.
The laureate will undoubtedly be catapulted onto the global stage and see sales rise and out-of-print works returned into circulation. The winner will also receive a $1.4 million check, a gold medal, a diploma, and an invitation to a banquet in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel.
As often as not, the Swedish Academy picks a fairly obscure writer. One such year was 1949 when the prize went to a relatively unknown William Faulkner.
“It is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Andersson said. “When you get the Nobel Prize you become distinguished, and then you live on. You become someone people want in their bookshelves.”