Nobel literature prize winner, ignored in U.S., is worth a read

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Every year, Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, peace, and literature are awarded: three to scientists, one to an activist, and one to an artist.

That last one, we as a nation will ignore. We will not consider this year’s winner’s “condensed, translucent images, [which] give us fresh access to reality.” Even with the Swedish Academy’s compelling tweet-length press quote on this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, we will not dive into his art. Despite the fact that he has just won the Nobel for artists and that his entire corpus is less than 300 pages, he will remain largely unread in America.

We as a country continue to be uninformed about actual literature, especially literature written by anyone outside of our country or by anyone who dares write in a language other than our own. We are so uninformed that we lack the ability to reason about the prize. Americans are not informed enough to call shenanigans on the Swedish Academy awarding the prize to a Swedish poet — what incest!

Even if we were aware that he was the eighth Swede to win the prize in the mere 111 years it has existed, seemingly a clear bias, we couldn’t actually argue that they were keeping it local because we simply aren’t aware of the whole field. Even if we think the prize should be less Euro-centric (10 of the 12 awarded since 2000), none of us is able to even name a writer from Asia or Africa. If we want to believe that this prize should be politicized, and overtly so, we cannot connect it with the Arab Spring, because we have not read artists like Nuruddin Farah or Adonis.

If you read the news reports last week, you will have seen Tranströmer described as “a well-recognized voice in Scandinavian countries” or “Sweden’s most lauded poet.” Who is America’s most lauded poet? When did you last read a poem? When our best-selling writers are Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Nicholas Sparks, who can we as a country unify behind for an American Nobel literature prize winner?

We seem to prefer sparkly vampires, wizarding schools, and endless easy-to-read series over literature that pushes the boundaries of identity, socioeconomic status, larger political issues, and human rights. Publishers have followed what we purchase, and the writers that are published, promoted, and acclaimed are those who sell books and e-copies. We remain in the dark, ignoring literature from abroad and anything that might make us question the way we see and think. We will write off the Swedish Academy as Euro-centric and irrelevant since they aren’t saying what we want to hear and they aren’t naming Americans.

For those of you who aren’t satisfied with this, and have the ability to read a poem and reflect on it, pick up Tranströmer (especially over recent winners Vargas Llosa and Müller). I would specifically recommend Det Vilda Torget (The Wild Market Square in English). Step outside your comfort zone and join a world in which literature carries the import it once did — beyond the New York Times bestseller list.