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Online betting gives clues to who may win the Nobel Prize in literature


The Nobel Prize in literature is set to be announced later this morning. Who will be hailed as the world's greatest writer is, well, anyone's guess. Wild speculations abound. And NPR's Andrew Limbong brings us this report.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: As highfalutin as the Nobel Prize in literature might seem, it's always funny that when this time of year rolls around, the place literature lovers turn to to get a sense of who's up for the award is online betting. And right now, if you wanted to put down some money, the odds are favoring writers such as the Chinese experimentalist Can Xue, the mystical Norwegian writer Jon Fosse, the widely celebrated Japanese author Haruki Murakami. There's also the reclusive Australian writer Gerald Murnane. One of the few American names being tossed about is Thomas Pynchon, another famous recluse. Not looking good for the reporter that's got to try and call one of these writers up if they win. But besides betting odds, the only other thing we really have to go on is the taste of the Nobel Prize Committee. And lately, one theme has been recurring among the winners.


ANNIE ERNAUX: (Speaking French).

LIMBONG: Last year's winner, Annie Ernaux, was awarded for uncovering, quote, "the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory." Her work uses her own history to examine feminism, relationships and sexual politics. In her lecture to the Nobel Committee last year, she said...


ERNAUX: (Speaking French).

LIMBONG: This is from the translation provided by the Nobel website. Quote, "this is how I conceived my commitment to writing, which does not consist of writing for a category of readers but in writing from my experience as a woman and an immigrant of the interior and from my longer and longer memory of the years I have lived and from the present and endless provider of the images and words of others." The year before that, Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded for his writings about the memories of migration and colonization. When Gurnah was 18, he fled his hometown of Zanzibar after revolutionaries overthrew the government. And in his Nobel lecture, Gurnah spoke about returning home after living in England.


ABDULRAZAK GURNAH: I walked through the streets of the town I grew up in and saw the degradation of things and places and people who live on, grizzled and toothless and in fear of losing the memory of the past. It became necessary to make an effort to preserve that memory, to write about what was there, to retrieve the moments and the stories people lived by.

LIMBONG: With the exception of the poet Louise Gluck, all the writers since Bob Dylan won in 2016 talk about memory in some form or another in their Nobel lectures, how time refracts the stories we tell ourselves and how important it is to get those stories out there. But even Gluck has a poetry collection called "Faithful And Virtuous Night" that has multiple poems about nothingness, a lack of legacy, about forgetting, which is to say, it's about remembering. One poem titled "The Past" ends like this. (Reading) It is my mother's voice you hear, or is it only the sound that the trees make when the air passes through them? Because what sound would it make, passing through nothing? Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLACEBO'S "H.K. FAREWELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.