So far as I understand(I might be wrong), the 5 or so people that form the committee that decides who should get the Nobel Prize for Literature are primarily Swedish Nationals. Here's a list of the current commuter members.

Now given that the Nobel for Literature is an international prize that is given to people from many different cultures and languages, shouldn't the committee that decides who should get the prize rather be composed of many people from different cultures who speak different languages, so as to make the proceedings more fair?

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    I don't understand the point of the question. If an individual leaves a bequest for a prize and that prize to be awarded by a named and pre-existing national institution... why is it anybody's business but that of the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Foundation to say how it 'should' be done?
    – Spagirl
    Aug 20, 2017 at 14:47
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    The Nobel prize for Literature is the biggest prize in Literature. It's a international prize that can supposedly be given to any writer from any culture. To have just Swedish nationals, presumably speaking mostly European languages decide who gets the immense prestige of the Nobel Prize seems just slightly biased. Aug 20, 2017 at 14:57
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    @GenRincewind It is an international prize in that it can be awarded to writers from any country, i.e. non-Swedes are not excluded. But it is a prize awarded by a private foundation, with the assistance of a National Institution, from funds bequeathed by an individual. There is surely no obligation on it beyond the terms of Alfred Nobel's will?
    – Spagirl
    Aug 20, 2017 at 16:54
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    @GenRincewind You cannot 'disregard the original origins' though; without the Nobel Foundation, created to administer the bequest, which is the source of the prize fund, there is no prize. Their prize, they get to run it how they like. They are apparently aiming for a more global distribution. But why don't you spend some time on their website yourself? nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/literature
    – Spagirl
    Aug 20, 2017 at 18:45
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    @GenRincewind As far as I can see you are unhappy that Swedes give prizes to non-Swedes without also giving non-Swedes the running of their prize. Are you really saying that they should in some way not be allowed to run their own thing their own way, just because they don't limit awards to their countrymen? Because that's where protesting them 'dictating' ends up.
    – Spagirl
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:33

1 Answer 1


Alfred Nobel's will states that

[Priset] [...] för litteratur [utdelas] af Akademien i Stockholm[...]

or, in English

The award for Literature shall be awarded by the Academy in Stockholm

All the awards are granted by academies based in Stockholm, except for the peace prize, which is awarded by a five-member committee chosen by the Parliament of Norway.

The Academy has then elected to organize the work in the following manner:

  • A large group of people, including Academy members, professors, and former winners, are able to suggest people for consideration
  • A four or five-member sub-committee, elected for three years, does the heavy lifting of registering, investigating and recommending winners. They can ask for expert opinions of outsiders, and ask for translations if not enough such are available. They reduce all the suggestions to a short-list of about twenty.
  • Then the entire Academy discuss the list, and it is reduced further to five.
  • Over the summer, the members read such authors that they need to get further acquainted with.
  • Early autumn, they vote on the winner.

As for the nationality of the Academy, I have not been able to find the statutes, but this LTE makes it clear that only people of Swedish nationality are eligible (and thus not, e.g. Swedish-speaking Finns). They could, I guess, involve more non-members in the preparatory work, but I think it would be hard to wiggle away from the wording of the will, even if it is clearly the work of Nobel's own hand, not a lawyer. In the end, it is the Swedish Academy, and no other body, that is responsible for awarding the prize.

Also, remember that there was actually an uproar about the fact that the awards should be granted "without regards to nationality" when the contents of the will first became known. Even so, while the prizes have always been of a very substantial sum, it was in no way clear from the start that they would take on the significance they have today.


  • So is there a clause in the will of Alfred Nobel that forbid non-Swedish nationals from joining the Nobel committee? I can't read Swedish :-{ Aug 20, 2017 at 18:12
  • I have quoted the entirety of what it says about who awards the prize in literature. It says nothing about any committee, just that the Academy is responsible for determining who shall receive the prize.
    – andejons
    Aug 20, 2017 at 18:27
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    @GenRincewind The Nobel Committee is formed of members of the Swedish Academy. So the rules of that Institution apply. As andejon points out, they have translations and other resources. The judgement is about a body of work, it's a literature prize rather than a book prize. Specifically "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction".
    – Spagirl
    Aug 20, 2017 at 18:32
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    But my opinion is really subjective, and prone to error. Aug 20, 2017 at 18:53
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    @GenRincewind You don't know who they've rejected because they don't announce who has been nominated and considered. nominations are secret for 50 years. English is the single most represented language in the Nobel Literature winners work (28), Swedish (7), Norwegian (3).
    – Spagirl
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:29

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