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No Shortlist Of Nominees For The Nobel Prize In Literature


The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced tomorrow in Stockholm. And as usual, the British betting agency Ladbrokes is driving the speculation on who might win. No matter that Ladbrokes rarely gets it right. The Nobel committee is famous for its surprising choices. Last year's winner was Bob Dylan. Still, some names get mentioned every year. NPR's Lynn Neary looks at this year's top contenders.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: It's been quite a year for Margaret Atwood. A television adaptation of her novel "The Handmaid's Tale" was a huge success, and the book, first published more than 30 years ago, is back near the top of best-seller lists. That may be why her chance of winning the Nobel this year looks pretty good. It's also why fans like Karma Waltonen are on tenterhooks.

KARMA WALTONEN: I mean, this is something that all Atwood fans have waited for for a really long time. And even in years when other writers that we love win, it's just so difficult when she doesn't.

NEARY: Waltonen teaches writing at UC Davis and edits the Journal of Margaret Atwood Studies. She says Atwood may be famous for "The Handmaid's Tale," but she is no one-book wonder.

WALTONEN: Everything she writes, even though she writes in a ton of different genres - in each of them, I think her signatures are that she always constructs the story in a really interesting way narratively and that she has what we keep seeing as this sort of prescience (laughter), you know? We read her books, and then later, we say, oh, wait, that just happened. (Laughter) She wrote about it, and then it came true.

NEARY: Joining Margaret Atwood as a betting favorite this year is Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. But Tufts University Professor Hosea Hirata says Murakami has one thing that might be working against him - his popularity.

HOSEA HIRATA: His books sell phenomenally. It's like "Harry Potter."

NEARY: Hirata says the Nobel committee might think that Murakami is too steeped in pop culture to be taken seriously. And literature Nobels often go to writers with strong political messages. But Hirata says it's a mistake to think Murakami is apolitical. In a book like "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," Hirata says, Murakami forces the reader to face certain truths about World War II.

HIRATA: His book is I think really telling that at the subconscious level, we are somehow linked to all that violence that erupted in the world. And we are capable of that type of violence again if we're not careful.

NEARY: It's been 31 years since a black African writer from Sub-Saharan Africa has won the Nobel. That's one reason Macalester College professor David Moore thinks Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o has a good chance to win this year. Moore says Ngugi writes in his mother tongue, Gikuyu.

DAVID MOORE: Ngugi, since the late 1960s, has been a powerful proponent of the writing of literatures in all of the world's languages.

NEARY: Imprisoned for a year in 1977, Ngugi later went into exile and has been living in the U.S. since 1989. But Moore says he has worked to maintain his identity as a Kenyan author.

MOORE: He has not become a global cosmopolitan writer who's doing what Salman Rushdie writes, which is, write these novels full of characters from all over the planet finding themselves in some multicultural stew. He's confronted globalization but really as a Kenyan writer.

NEARY: Ngugi's name always comes up at Nobel time. But this year, Ladbrokes has given him the best odds of winning. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIGHTS AND MOTION'S "FIREFLIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.