literature nobel prize

Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) was a Chilean poet, and the first Latin American author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She achieved this in 1945, for her poems which deal with themes of nature, love, and Latin American identity, among others.

She was first recognized as a great poet when she won the national contest Juegos Florales in 1914. She soon became a widely acclaimed figure internationally, and worked for the League for Intellectual Cooperation within the League of Nations. In 1951 she was awarded the Chilean National Prize for Literature.

Derek Walcott (Saint Lucian poet and playwright, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, 1930–2017)


The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

–Derek Walcott

“To see” means not only to have before one’s eyes. It may mean also to preserve in memory. “To see and to describe” may also mean to reconstruct in imagination. A distance achieved, thanks to the mystery of time, must not change events, landscapes, human figures into a tangle of shadows growing paler and paler. On the contrary, it can show them in full light, so that every event, every date becomes expressive and persists as an eternal reminder of human depravity and human greatness. Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever. They can fulfill their duties only by trying to reconstruct precisely things as they were, and by wresting the past from fictions and legends.
—  Czesław Miłosz, Nobel Lecture (1980)
When he accepted the Nobel prize in 1982, Garcia Marquez described Latin America as a “source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

Nelly Sachs (1891-1970) was a Swedish poet and playwright of Jewish-German origins who won the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature. She is best known for voicing her experiences of persecution and terror as a German Jew during World War II.

At the onset of the war, she managed to flee with her mother on the last flight from Germany to Sweden, where she settled and lived for the rest of her life. She received the Nobel Prize for her writing which ‘represented the tragedy of the Jewish people’. In 1961 she was the first winner of a literary prize awarded biannually in Germany, the Nelly Sachs Prize, which bears her name.

People of Germany: Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. His highly symbolic and ironic epic novels are noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. He was a member of the Hanseatic Mann family and portrayed his family & class in his first novel, Buddenbrooks. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann. 3 of his 6 children, Erika, Klaus, and Golo, also became important writers. 

Thomas Mann was born to a bourgeois family in Lübeck, 2nd son of a senator and grain merchant and his wife Júlia da Silva Bruhns (a Brazilian of German and Portuguese ancestry who came to Germany at age 7). His mother was Roman Catholic but Mann was baptized into his father’s Lutheran religion. His father died in 1891, the firm was liquidated, and the family moved to Munich. Mann attended the science division of a Lübeck school, then spent time at the Ludwig Maximillians University and the Technical University of Munich where, in preparation for a journalism career, he studied history, economics, art history, and literature. He lived in Munich from 1891-1933 and spent a year in Italy. In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, daughter of a wealthy, secular Jewish industrialist family. She later joined the Lutheran church. The couple had 6 children.

Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012) was the 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was described as the “Mozart of poetry” in her native country of Poland, where her volumes were consistently bestsellers.

Although her early work followed the official state guidelines in accordance with the socialist rule, gradually she estranged herself from this style and began getting involved with other dissidents to protest the repressive regime. Her works often feature war and terrorism, and employ literary techniques such as ironic precision, contradiction and paradox.