When I suggested the currently running topic challenge on R. K. Narayan, I wrote that the author

was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature (possibly several times) but never won it.

This was based on the following statement in the Wikipedia article about the author:

He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature multiple times, but never won the honour.

The source for that statement is the article The Grand Old Man of Malgudi in the Indian newspaper The Tribune (7 October 2000), which says,

Narayan rated as one of the finest English language writers in the world — and a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize — was born in Madras in 1906.


His work is available in most of the world’s major languages, he has been nominated more than once for the Nobel Prize, he has won many literary honours, (...)

and finally,

I along with many others feel the Nobel should have come to him several years ago. He was nominated twice – and could still get it. Some 40 years ago Graham Greene expressed, in a letter, confidence that Narayan would one day win the Nobel Prize. But, then, what on earth could be the reason for the Nobel not coming to Greene, a truly great writer?

The last two statements come from N. Ram, who wrote a biography of R. K. Narayan. However, is Graham Greene the only source for this claim or are their other sources? (Could Graham Greene actually have knowledge about nominations without having won the prize himself?)

  • If he was, he wasn't nominated before 1970 (since doesn't show up in the nominee search, and they don't reveal nominees until 50 years after).
    – muru
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 19:02
  • 1
    @muru I know. I searched both "Narayan" and "Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami" (and substrings from his full name).
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 19:04
  • Hmm, looks like the archive is only showing results up to 1966. (Not that it makes much of a difference.)
    – muru
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 19:06
  • 1
    Being nominated for the Nobel Prize is not that much of an honor ... there is a long list of people who are able to make nominations. For example, Adolf Hitler is on that list of people who were nominated (I assume for the Peace Prize), but I really hope he wasn't shortlisted.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


TLDR: Contrary to the OP's assumptions, being nominated for a Nobel Prize and being shortlisted for one are two quite different things. We know some of the nominees for Nobel Prizes because their nominators tell people about it; the Nobel Prize Foundation does not require them to stay silent. Information about the shortlist is not released until fifty years after a Nobel Prize is given, and we have no information about who was shortlisted for more recent prizes.

Your question seems to assume that being nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and being on the short list are essentially equivalent. They are two quite different things. The number of people who are nominated is much larger than the number on the short list. For example, in 1962, one of the years that the Nobel Foundation has commented on the short list, there were 66 people nominated, and three on the short list (there apparently would have been four, but one of them died).

There is a fairly long list of people who can nominate candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature. These are (from the Nobel Prize website):

  1. Members of the Swedish Academy and of other academies, institutions and societies which are similar to it in construction and purpose;

  2. Professors of literature and of linguistics at universities and university colleges;

  3. Previous Nobel Laureates in Literature;

  4. Presidents of those societies of authors that are representative of the literary production in their respective countries.

If somebody nominated Narayan for the Nobel Prize in Literature, that person would know that he had been nominated and could tell other people that Narayan had been nominated. This happens quite often (especially for the Nobel Peace Prize). I would assume that this is how people know that Narayan had been nominated.

However, this is quite different from being shortlisted. The short list is compiled by the The Nobel Committee for Literature, and this information is kept secret for fifty years. The only people who would know the short list are members of this committee and the Swedish Academy, and it is extremely unlikely that any of them would say anything.

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