Breaking news! As if slowly losing grip politically and militarily around the World and the Wall Street financial meltdown were not enough, the once all-powerful United States of America is in for another let-down. The Associated Press reports:
Bad news for American writers hoping for a Nobel Prize next week: the top member of the award jury believes the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.
As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year’s award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said it’s no coincidence that most winners are European.
“Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world … not the United States,” he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”
Needless to say, his controversial statements riled up not a few US literary officials.
“You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.
[Leo Tolstoy too! He died in 1910, a decade after the the Nobel Prize was started.]
“And if he looked harder at the American scene that he dwells on, he would see the vitality in the generation of Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, as well as in many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English. None of these poor souls, old or young, seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola.”
[In my opinion, another contemporary American writer that deserves the prize is Ursula Le Guin. I love her works of literary science fiction and fantasy that incorporates sharp social commentary and explorations on alternative systems of organizing human society, including The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Earth-Sea Cycle, among others.]
Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the foundation which administers the National Book Awards, said he wanted to send Engdahl a reading list of U.S. literature.
“Such a comment makes me think that Mr. Engdahl has read little of American literature outside the mainstream and has a very narrow view of what constitutes literature in this age,” he said. ■