Why Doesn’t John Updike have a Nobel Prize Yet?

Can someone explain to me why John Updike doesn’t have the Nobel Prize yet? I just got around to reading Bech: A Book, and was once again transfixed by Updike’s command of the English language. There may well be authors in other languages who deserve the Nobel in Literature more than he does, but I can’t think of one still alive and writing in English.

The man’s pushing 80. He may not have that many years left. Can’t we get him one before it’s too late? Surely if Nobels can go to Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison, there’s room for an Updike?

10 Responses to “Why Doesn’t John Updike have a Nobel Prize Yet?”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Some of Updike’s own comments on the question:

    “Some Greek leader was once asked why there was no statue to him in the town square. He replied that he would rather people ask why there isn’t one than why there is one.”

    “It would be wonderful to win [the Nobel Prize], the odds are pretty slim. I’m getting too old for it at 73. Usually it goes to people in their 60s, though I was happy to see Pinter win, given he’s two years older than I am. So hope springs eternal.”

    “If I thought as hard about writing as I do about golf, I might be a better writer — maybe win the Nobel Prize. It would not be Coetzee going up there in his rented white-tie outfit.”

    “I would not mind seeing Shoeless Joe Jackson get the Nobel Prize.”

    It’s also been pointed out that Toni Morrison is the only native-born American with a Nobel for Literature.

    Well, at least Bech got it in 1999.

  2. robert Says:

    When I was an undergraduate, in the 70’s, I was an English major for a while. Even then, the “professionals” had a consistent view: a great writer with nothing to say.

    At the time, he didn’t rise to the level of Cheever, Fowles, Barth, or even Oates. I certainly wouldn’t put him in the class of Bellow or Morrison. Not even close.

  3. robert Says:

    “It’s also been pointed out that Toni Morrison is the only native-born American with a Nobel for Literature.”

    William Faulkner will haunt you from his grave y’all. Assuming that you consider Mississippi part of America.

  4. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Frankly, I never noticed Bellow saying much at all about anything; and I certainly wouldn’t consider him nearly as gifted a writer as Updike. But to each his own, I suppose. And I would disagree that Updike doesn’t have anything to say. However if significance of topic is the only limiting factor then perhaps his latest novel will finally break the logjam. It’s certainly a stretch from his usual subject matter, and very topical.

  5. Bruce Baldey Says:

    Each sentence on each page of every Updike novel (Rabbits, Couples et al, faux history, golf) is seared and fresh.
    Bellow’s language is stewed and overcooked….and I must have missed the message in Hertzog and anything Seize the Day had to say except the obvious.

  6. Robert Says:

    Do you really need this question answered!? Updike is a great writer but his style does not dazzle and resonate with the one of a kind brillance of Jazz. Nobel winners seem to touch a vein that elevates their work to a universality that Updike has not delivered. His latest review in the New Yorker, while not at all representative of his impressive body of work, reveals how much a kind of regionalistic perspective probaly kept him from achieving the level of a Toni Morrison.

  7. xtina Says:

    …”Updike is a great writer but his style does not dazzle and resonate with the one of a kind brillance of Jazz.”

    What kind of bull*hit is that, Robert? Surely you have not read Updike. Read “Roger’s Version”, or “Rabbit At Rest”. The body trips along with the mind – beautiful, incredible work. I have been among the suburbanites and yes, he’s got it right, the attitudes towards youth, towards women and money. These still exist today despite the PC camoflauge. I rank him up there with Bellow, Cheever, etc. An American master who knows his subject matter like he knows his own hand.

  8. David Fry Says:

    Well, he died today so that’s that. Whether or not an author is popular, innovative, or influential plays a role in the selection process as do political considerations. They don’t want to select too many English language authors and they like to select authors that write with a politically desirable point of view. They also like to select authors with a variety of different styles. I’m no expert but I would say that there have been dozens of English language authors that were more deserving than Pearl S Buck, including John Updike, but once she got on the list that meant that some of those deserving authors would never be considered. I should also mention that there is a strong and ANNOYING academic influence on the selection process. How about Mark Twain, James Joyce, Thomas Wolfe, and Lawrence Durrell. They all could have been selected, are more deserving than at least 1/2 or the authors that were selected AND Updike, but weren’t.

  9. John Smith Says:

    “It’s also been pointed out that Toni Morrison is the only native-born American with a Nobel for Literature.”

    In addition to the aforementioned Faulkner, there were, off the top of my head, Sinclair Lewis (the 1st American Lit winner), Pearl Buck, T.S. Eliot (yes, I’m counting him as an American), Eugene O’Neil, Hemingway and Steinbeck.

    And LOL @ that comment about Jazz and Toni Morrison. As Albert Murray said…literary affirmative action. If Updike were a non-white male with a more pronounced leftist ideology, they’d have given him the award 20 years ago.

  10. Bruce Baldey Says:

    How true John; so often Awards, rather than celebrating quality, celebrate the politics of the organization that promotes the Awards.

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