Literature’s Nobel Prize: Who Won, Who Didn’t, and Why It All Matters

Joseph Luzzi
Joseph Luzzi
Bard College

Joseph Luzzi (PhD, Yale) is Professor of Comparative Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College, and he taught previously at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in The New York TimesTLSThe London Times, the GuardianChronicle of Higher Education, and on National Public Radio. Dr. Luzzi’s awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, Dante Society of America Essay Prize, and Wallace Fellowship at Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. He is the author of five books, including My Two Italies, and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love. Professor Luzzi recently created The Virtual Book Club: an international community of readers dedicated to exploring major literary works past and present. Learn more at


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Each year, passionate readers throughout the world wait for that October day when the greatest award in the world of books is announced: the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since 1901, the Swedish Academy has awarded the prize to an author from any country who has produced “the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction.” These subjective words have led to choices that have been alternately celebrated and criticized for more than a century.

This presentation will share with audiences the fascinating history and controversial decisions by the Nobel Prize committee, as we discover why some unexpected writers won (Bob Dylan!) and other legendary authors did not (Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and many others). We’ll also consider those cases where the Nobel Prize committee seemed to “get it right,” and why these choices have been celebrated. Finally, we’ll discuss why the Nobel Prize is such an important institution worldwide and how it continues to impact the lives of readers.



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