7 Nobel Speeches by 7 Great Writers: Hemingway, Faulkner, and More

William Faulkn­er, 1949:

Almost every year since 1901, the Swedish Acad­e­my has appor­tioned one fifth of the inter­est from the for­tune bequeathed by dyna­mite inven­tor Alfred Nobel to hon­or, as Nobel said in his will, “the per­son who shall have pro­duced in the field of lit­er­a­ture the most out­stand­ing work in an ide­al direc­tion.”

Many of the great­est writ­ers of the past 112 years have received the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, but there have been some glar­ing omis­sions right from the start. When Leo Tol­stoy was passed over in 1901 (the prize went to the French poet Sul­ly Prud­homme) he was so offend­ed he refused lat­er nom­i­na­tions. The list of great writ­ers who were alive after 1901 but nev­er received the prize is jaw-drop­ping. In addi­tion to Tol­stoy, it includes James Joyce, Vir­ginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Joseph Con­rad, Anton Chekhov, Mar­cel Proust, Hen­ry James, Hen­rik Ibsen, Émile Zola, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, F. Scott Fitzger­ald, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov.

But the Nobel com­mit­tee has hon­ored many wor­thy writ­ers, and today we’ve gath­ered togeth­er sev­en speech­es by sev­en lau­re­ates. Our choice was restrict­ed by the lim­i­ta­tions of what is avail­able online in Eng­lish. We have focused on the short speech­es tra­di­tion­al­ly giv­en on Decem­ber 10 of every year at the Nobel ban­quet in Stock­holm. With the excep­tion of short excerpts from Bertrand Rus­sel­l’s lec­ture, we have passed over the longer Nobel lec­tures (which typ­i­cal­ly run about 40 min­utes) pre­sent­ed to the Swedish Acad­e­my on a dif­fer­ent day than the ban­quet.

We begin above with one of the most often-quot­ed Nobel speech­es: William Faulkn­er’s elo­quent accep­tance of the 1949 prize. There was actu­al­ly no prize in lit­er­a­ture giv­en in 1949, but the com­mit­tee decid­ed to award that year’s medal 12 months lat­er to Faulkn­er, cit­ing his “pow­er­ful and artis­ti­cal­ly unique con­tri­bu­tion to the mod­ern Amer­i­can nov­el.” Faulkn­er gave his speech on Decem­ber 10, 1950, in the same cer­e­mo­ny with Bertrand Rus­sell. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the audio cuts off just before the fin­ish. To fol­low along and read the miss­ing end­ing, click here to open the full text in a new win­dow. Faulkn­er stum­bles a few times dur­ing his deliv­ery. You can lis­ten to his smoother 1954 read­ing of a pol­ished ver­sion of the speech here.

Bertrand Rus­sell, 1950:

The British logi­cian and philoso­pher Bertrand Rus­sell was one of sev­er­al prize-win­ners in lit­er­a­ture who were pri­mar­i­ly known for their work in oth­er fields. (The short list includes states­man Win­ston Churchill and philoso­pher Hen­ri Berg­son.) In addi­tion to his ground-break­ing con­tri­bu­tions to math­e­mat­ics and ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy, Rus­sell wrote many books for the gen­er­al read­er. In 1950 the Nobel com­mit­tee cit­ed his “var­ied and sig­nif­i­cant writ­ings in which he cham­pi­ons human­i­tar­i­an ideals and free­dom of thought.” Above are two short audio clips from Rus­sel­l’s Decem­ber 11, 1950 Nobel lec­ture, “What Desires are Polit­i­cal­ly Impor­tant?” You can click here to open the full text in a new win­dow.

Ernest Hem­ing­way, 1954:

The Amer­i­can writer Ernest Hem­ing­way was award­ed the 1954 prize “for his mas­tery of the art of nar­ra­tive, most recent­ly demon­strat­ed in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influ­ence that he has exert­ed on con­tem­po­rary style.” Hem­ing­way was not feel­ing well enough in Decem­ber of 1954 to trav­el to Stock­holm, so he asked John C. Cabot, Unit­ed States Ambas­sador to Swe­den, to deliv­er the speech for him. For­tu­nate­ly we do have this record­ing from some­time that month of Hem­ing­way read­ing his speech at a radio sta­tion in Havana, Cuba. You can click here to open the full text in a new win­dow.

John Stein­beck, 1962:

The Amer­i­can writer John Stein­beck, author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, was award­ed the Nobel in 1962 “for his real­is­tic and imag­i­na­tive writ­ings, com­bin­ing as they do sym­pa­thet­ic humor and keen social per­cep­tion.” To read along as you watch Stein­beck give his speech, click here to open the text in a new win­dow.

V.S. Naipaul, 2001:

Jump­ing ahead from 1962 all the way to 2001, we have video of the speech giv­en by the Trinida­di­an-British writer V.S. Naipaul, author of such books as In a Free State and A Bend in the Riv­er. Naipaul was cit­ed by the Nobel com­mit­tee “for hav­ing unit­ed per­cep­tive nar­ra­tive and incor­rupt­ible scruti­ny in works that com­pel us to see the pres­ence of sup­pressed his­to­ries.” You can click here to open a text of Naipaul’s ban­quet speech in a new win­dow.

Orhan Pamuk, 2006:

The Turk­ish writer Orhan Pamuk, author of such books as The Muse­um of Inno­cence and Snow, received the prize in 2006. The Nobel com­mit­tee praised the Istan­bul-based writer, “who in the quest for the melan­cholic soul of his native city has dis­cov­ered new sym­bols for the clash and inter­lac­ing of cul­tures.” To read Pamuk’s ban­quet speech, click here to open the text in a new win­dow.

Mario Var­gas Llosa, 2010:

The pro­lif­ic Peru­vian-Span­ish writer Mario Var­gas Llosa, author of such nov­els as Con­ver­sa­tion in the Cathe­dral and Death in the Andes, was cit­ed by the Nobel com­mit­tee in 2010 “for his car­tog­ra­phy of struc­tures of pow­er and his tren­chant images of the indi­vid­u­al’s resis­tance, revolt, and defeat.” To read along with Var­gas Llosa as he speaks, click here to open the text in a new win­dow.

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Comments (14)
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  • David Wees says:

    One might think from the list you have gen­er­at­ed that there are no female writ­ers of note…

  • Mike Springer says:

    Of the 108 writ­ers who have received the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, only 12 have been women. That is the sit­u­a­tion as I found it, not as I would make it. As for my list of non-recip­i­ents, I should first of all remind you that Vir­ginia Woolf is near the very top of that list. Sec­ond­ly, I can think of a lot of oth­er notable writ­ers of both gen­ders who were alive after 1901 and whose work I per­son­al­ly love, but my list was meant to reflect writ­ers of tow­er­ing stature, his­tor­i­cal­ly, and not just “writ­ers of note” or writ­ers I per­son­al­ly approve of. (As a mat­ter of fact, I do not like every writer on that list.) So I was aim­ing at a kind of objec­tiv­i­ty. But of course a thing like this is ulti­mate­ly sub­jec­tive, so it would be inter­est­ing if you (and any oth­ers) would offer your own list in the space below. Thanks.

    • johnhay says:

      It must be so sad to have a mind warped by mis-edu­ca­tion that com­pels you to regur­gi­tate warped, twist­ed and mean­ing­less screeds like this in hopes of get­ting some kind of pel­let from your teach­ers.

  • Bev Ross says:

    Thank you for post­ing the speech of Stein­beck. It was relevent then and remains relevent now.



  • Shaun says:

    Thanks for this. Stein­beck­’s lec­ture is always haunt­ing. Few of us seem to have his trep­i­da­tion or his faith in human­i­ty.

  • P.P. Bala Chandran says:

    Is there any­way one can get them all in CDs or DVDs ?

  • melissa says:

    John hay, it must also be sad to have a mind that attacks rather than edu­cates. Also, your attack does­n’t include your list, there­fore your argu­ment falls on it’s face. If you wish to fight mis-edu­ca­tion start by com­mu­ni­cat­ing infor­ma­tion with your mixed metaphors.

  • MJM says:

    How come no one has used the Swedish Chef from The Mup­pets to deliv­er their speech? Out of respect for being in Swe­den?

  • Amrut Gennur says:

    It is help­ful for visu­al­ly impaired.

  • Christina Vanderhaeghe says:

    Miss­ing Toni Mor­ri­son, Her­ta Müller and Bob Dylan.

    There is black and white, there are men and women, their are writ­ers all over this Plan­et with Nobel Speech­es full of Wis­dom, His­to­ry and Inspi­ra­tion for young and old, all over the World

  • Lukman Abubakar says:

    Educa­tive lec­tures

  • Alex Clark says:

    Elie Wiesels speech is one of the most emo­tion­al and intense speech­es i have ever read. he also brings great points to the table that can be used in today’s world more than ever.

  • Eric mukaria says:

    I want to be famous also and one day clinch that pres­ti­gious nobel prize in chem­istry.

  • Orham says:

    Yes — and you sound like a bar­rel of laughs your­self

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