One-Minute Book Reviews

October 10, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why Did the Swedish Academy Announce the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Yom Kippur? Cultural Insensitivity in Stockholm

Did you look at the lists of the bookies’ favorites for the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature and think, “There’s no way Philip Roth or Amos Oz is going to get the award this year”? I did for an obvious reason: The Swedish Academy said it was going to announce the winner on Yom Kippur. And I couldn’t believe the Academy would be so religiously tone-deaf as to ask a Jewish writer to take a call from the judges — and face the ensuing media onslaught — on a high holy day. The judges would have looked like cretins even if the winner had been too overjoyed to object. In naming the day of the prize, the Academy all but told Roth and Oz to forget it.

The question is: Why did the Academy decide to announce the winner on Yom Kippur in the first place? To my knowledge no important literary prizes are awarded on major religious holidays. That timing may reflect a literary reality as much as a respect for people’s spirituality: Writers get so few prizes that they deserve to be able enjoy them when they do.

To much of the world, the Nobel Prize in literature represents high culture and Hollywood stands for low. But even the Academy Awards presenters don’t hand out the Oscars on Easter. By deciding to award the literature prize on Yom Kippur, the Swedish Academy has made Hollywood look like a pillar of good taste.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Good point! Yom Kippur is THE most important day on the Jewish religious calender. It’s the Day of Atonement. What was the Swedish Academy thinking??? Talk about “ignorant” and “insular”!

    Comment by Val Kovalin — October 10, 2008 @ 1:51 am | Reply

  2. Apart from the religious insensitivity that the date involved — which is considerable — people bet on the Nobel Prizes through online and other agencies, and a blunder like this could have affected the betting …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — October 10, 2008 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  3. You’re right. I didn’t even consider the betting, but that kind of scheduling really tips the Academy’s hand (to work in a poker metaphor, ha, ha!)

    Comment by Val Kovalin — October 10, 2008 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

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