Literary Nobel Laureates Aloud

Bob Dylan’s unwillingness to collect his Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2016, served as a popular reminder that this accolade (and there are others with similar rules) requires its recipient to speak up publicly when the award ceremony occurs. The Nobel Prize Organization provides snippets of some of the responding speeches. However, some great authors, as we know, are magnificent when writing and less so when speaking. A snippet serves these writers well because only the most compelling aspect of their speech need be archived.

How the Literary Laureate crafts the acceptance speech, and the content they choose to present varies, of course. Some apparently stay within the mode of shock and awe at the celebration of their work, while others use the global public square of the speech to make statements about events beyond the matter of literature and the winning of the grand prize at hand. John Steinbeck’s snippet, for example, gives us his embodied voice of a man who is expressing gratitude without the incisiveness of his writing voice. Austrian playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek, on the other hand, whose speech had to be recorded for presentation as she did not have the physical ability to attend, demonstrates the flow of her words as they are meant to be heard even when she places them in actors’ mouths.

And some provide highly literary and yet skillfully performed responses to the award that echo the award’s purpose and meaning: they give back—to all of us—in the spirit of adding to the world body of story and cultural history. Kazuo Ishiguro, the most recent Literature Nobel Laureate, exemplifies the third type, his 45-minute speech accessible to a wide variety of listeners, whether educated, academic, or even teenaged, while also adding to the literary body of the world a tiny gem of well-chosen, skillfully constructed images built entirely of the blending of words with voice. While a video with Ishiguro’s complete speech is available on the Nobel Prize Organization site, the words and the voice are the essentials here. Penguin Random House Audiobooks has it for sale as such; every library needs to make it accessible to its community.