“It is a tragedy that Borges has not received the Nobel Prize”: Per Wästberg

Wästberg, writer and member of the Swedish Academy, with a deep human sensitivity, talks about the process of choosing winners and the eternal shortages

By: Javier Claure C.

October 14, 2021

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Per Wästberg was born in November 1933 in Stockholm. He is a prolific writer and has dabbled in different literary genres. He was editor-in-chief of the newspaper Daily News (Dagens Nyheter) and president of the International PEN Club. In 1964, together with the lawyer Hans Göran Franck, they founded the Swedish section of Amnesty International. He has won several awards and has held important positions in the Swedish cultural sphere. Currently, he is a columnist for the newspaper Swedish newspaper (Svenska Dagbladet). He has been a member of the Swedish Academy since 1997 and occupies the 12th chair. He is also a member of the Nobel Committee. This October the activities around the Nobel Prize begin. This interview was conducted online.

Javier Claure: Could you tell me how the members of the Nobel Committee work?

Per Wästberg: I answer you quickly, I have a lot to do. We are five members on the Nobel Committee. On the first of February of each year we receive, from all over the world, the nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature. So we sent around 450 invitations to universities, the PEN Club, former Nobel Prize winners and other institutions. We make a list of potential winners, and then add our own suggestions. This process results in 220 names. At the end of March we make a new list of 20 or 25 possible names. And at the beginning of April, as chairman of the Nobel Committee, I give lectures on the chosen names. In May the Committee chooses five names, and we ask the Academy to approve them, or to change one name to another. During the summer; that is to say, between June and August, all the members of the Committee read the literary works of the five chosen people. In addition, we write short essays on these works, and we do so without consulting among the members of the Committee. The penultimate Thursday of September is dedicated to the presentation of the five possible winners of the Prize. The following Thursday we will talk about the chosen works, on the third Thursday we seek to reach a consensus agreement. And on the fourth Thursday we announced the name of the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

JC: You have been to some countries in Africa. You have met Robert Mugabe personally. Why and when did your interest in Africa begin?

PW: Since my childhood I have always been fascinated by Africa. I have read children’s books about the African continent, for example by the great writer Karen Blixen. I did a course in African geology at Harvard University. And I applied for a Rotary scholarship in 1958, luckily I got it. Perhaps because I chose a university that did not have a single foreign student. I mean Salisbury University in Harare, in Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe. There I studied African literature concerning the 1940s onwards. I saw injustices up close and fought against racism. I was then deported to South Africa, where I met Nelson Mandela and his social environment before he was imprisoned. I traveled almost all over Africa, and I have visited certain African countries every two years, mainly the countries of southern and eastern Africa.

JC: Finally, Jorge Luis Borges was one of the most important writers in South America. His name was shuffled, several times, as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. What do you think was the reason for not giving you this prestigious award?

PW: It is a tragedy that Borges has not received the Nobel Prize. It was the Academy’s biggest mistake, along with Vladimir Nabokov and Karen Blixen. The idea was that the award should be shared between Borges and Miguel Ángel Asturias. Asturias received the award, while Borges made a fool of himself when he received a decoration from the hands of the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

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“It is a tragedy that Borges has not received the Nobel Prize”: Per Wästberg

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