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Are US writers unworthy of the Nobel Prize?

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Ouch! You could almost feel the hurt. An American writer is unlikely to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel judge and permanent secretary Horace Engdahl told the Associated Press in an interview.

"The US is too isolated, too insular," the Swedish historian and critic said. "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.

"You can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world, not the United States," he added.

It didn't take long for America's book world to spring to the defense. "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 magazine.

Remnick cited Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, along with "many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English." Not one of "these poor souls, old or young," Remnick said, "seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola."

"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," said Harold Augenbraum, executive director of US National Book Foundation.


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