Nobel-winner shuns prize ceremony

Winning the Nobel Prize in literature not only ensures a writer’s legacy, it’s also a ready-made pulpit to tout ideas and opinions.

During the week leading up to the awarding of the prizes, it’s also an opportunity for the winner to reach new readers, increase book sales and reap the benefit of scores of journalists who hang on one’s every word.

But this year’s winner, Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, is absent from the annual festivities. Jelinek maintained from the day she won the prize that she had no plans to attend the award ceremony on Friday, even saying that she had a social phobia that would prevent her from doing so.

Her absence has left the annual frenzy of intellectual examination and rumination seemingly empty.

The literature prize is, among the Nobels, perhaps the most accessible. Unlike the winners of the prize for physiology or medicine or physics and chemistry, it’s one around which nearly everyone can get their hands.

And when previous winners such as JM Coetzee or VS Naipul gave their lectures, it was before near standing-room-only crowds who listened, rapt, to each word they said.

That is not the case this year.

But that has not stopped the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Foundation from honouring the writer, whose most famous work is 1983’s The Piano Teacher, which was adapted into a 2001 film by director Michael Haneke.

Instead of reading from a selection of her works, which the Swedish Academy called a “musical flow of voices and counter-voices”, she provided a videotaped lecture that will be viewed by invited guests on Tuesday.

She’s the first literature laureate since British-born Australian Patrick White in 1973 not to attend the prize ceremony and the banquet.

Unlike White—or Ernest Hemingway in 1954 and Winston Churchill in 1953, who also did not attend the banquet—Jelinek will not send someone else to read a speech on her behalf, Sohlman said.

“The video lecture will be a first in the Nobel history,” he added.

Regardless of her absence, Jelinek’s award is by no means less diminished, said Anna Tillgren of Bonniers Publishing House.

“Of course, it’s much better that they are here in Sweden giving the lectures and the interviews,” Tillgren said.
“But I have to admire her for staying away, too.”

And while Jelinek won’t be among the laureates who receive their diplomas and gold medals from Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf at the lavish awards ceremony on December 10, she will get what’s hers.

Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy will travel to Jelinek’s home in Vienna later this month to award her the medal and diploma, along with the cash award of 10-million kronor ($1,3-million) that goes with it, in a ceremony at the Swedish ambassador’s residence.—Sapa-AP

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