On 27 November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes, the Nobel Prizes. As described in Nobel's will one part was dedicated to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.
The medal of the Swedish Academy represents a young man sitting under a laurel tree who, enchanted, listens to and writes down the song of the Muse.
2015 - Svetlana Alexievich "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time"
2014 - Patrick Modiano "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation"
2013 - Alice Munro "master of the contemporary short story"
2012 - Mo Yan who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.
2011 - Tomas Transtromer because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.
2010 - Mario Vargas Llosa for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat.
2009 - Heria Muller who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.
2008 - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.
2007 - Doris Lessing that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny.
2006 - Orhan Pamuk who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.
2005 - Harold Pinter who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms.
2004 - Elfriede Jelinek for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clich s and their subjugating power.
2003 - John Maxwell Coetzee who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider.
2002 - Imre Kertesz for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.
2001 - V. S. Naipaul for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.
2000 - Gao Xingjian for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama.
1999 - Gunter Grass whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history.
1998 - Jose Saramago who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality.
1997 - Dario Fo who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.
1996 - Wislawa Szymborska for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.
1995 - Seamus Heaney for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.
1994 - Kenzaburo Oe who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.
1993 - Toni Morrison who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.
1992 - Derek Walcott for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.
1991 - Nadine Gordimer who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity.
1990 - Octavio Paz for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.
1989 - Camilo Jose Cela for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability.
1988 - Naguib Mahfouz who, through works rich in nuance-now clearsightedly realistic, now evocatively ambigous-has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.
1987 - Joseph Brodsky for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity.
1986 - Wole Soyinka who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.
1985 - Claude Simon who in his novel combines the poet's and the painter's creativeness with a deepened awareness of time in the depiction of the human condition.
1984 - Jaroslaw Seifert for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man.
1983 - Sir William Golding for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today.
1982 - Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts.
1981 - Elias Canetti for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power.
1980 - Czeslaw Milosz who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts.
1979 - Odysseus Elytis (pen-name of Odysseus Alepoudhelis), for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness.
1978 - Isaac Bashevis Singer for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life.
1977 - Vicente Aleixandre for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man's condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry beween the wars.
1976 - Saul Bellow for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work.
1975 - Eugenio Montale for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions.
1974 - The prize was divided between: Eyvind Johnson for a narrative art, farseeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom & Harry Martinson for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos.
1973 - Patrick White for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature.
1972 - Heinrich Boll for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature.
1971 - Pablo Neruda for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams.
1970 - Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.
1969 - Samuel Beckett for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.
1968 - Yasunari Kawabata for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind.
1967 - Miguel Angel Asturias for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America.
1966 - The prize was divided equally between: Shmuel Yosef Agnon for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people & Nelly Sachs for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength.
1965 - Michail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people.
1964 - Jean-Paul Sartre for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a farreaching influence on our age. (Declined the prize.)
1963 - Giorgos Seferis (pen-name of Giorgos Seferiadis), for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture.
1962 - John Steinbeck for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.
1961 - Ivo Andri'c for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country.
1960 - Saint-John Perse (pen-name of Alexis Leger), for the soaring flight and the evocative imagery of his poetry which in a visionary fashion reflects the conditions of our time.
1959 - Salvatore Quasimodo for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times.
1958 - Boris Leonidovich Pasternak for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition. (Accepted first, later caused by the authorities of his country to decline the prize.)
1957 - Albert Camus for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.
1956 - Juan Ramon Jimenez for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity.
1955 - Halldor Kiljan Laxness for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.
1954 - Ernest Miller Hemingway for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea ,and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.
1953 - Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.
1952 - Francois Mauriac for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life.
1951 - Par Fabian Lagerkvist for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavours in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind.
1950 - Earl Bertrand Arthur William Russell in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.
1949 - William Faulker for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel.
1948 - Thomas Stearns Eliot for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.
1947 - Andre Paul Guillaume Gide for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight.
1946 - Hermann Hesse for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humaitarian ideals and high qualities of style.
1945 - Gabriela Mistral (pen-name of Lucila Godoy Y Alca-Yaga), for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world.
1944 - Johannes Vilhelm Jensen for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style.
1943-1940 - The prize money was allocated to the Main Fund (1/3) and to the Special Fund (2/3) of this prize section.
1939 - Frans Eemil Sillanpaa for his deep understanding of his country's peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature.
1938 - Pearl Buck (pen-name of Pearl Walsh née SYDENSTRICKER ), for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces.
1937 - Roger Martin Du Gard for the artistic power and truth with which he has depicted human conflict as well as some fundamental aspects of contemporary life in his novelcycle Les Thibault.
1936 - Eugene Gladstone O'Neill for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy.
1935 - The prize money was allocated to the Main Fund (1/3) and to the Special Fund (2/3) of this prize section.
1934 - Luigi Pirandello for his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art.
1933 - Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing.
1932 - John Galsworthy for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsythe Saga.
1931 - Erik Alex Karlfeldt The poetry of Erik Axel Karlfeldt.
1930 - Sinclair Lewis for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters.
1929 - Thomas Mann principially for his great novel, Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature.
1928 - Sigrid Undset principially for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages.
1927 - Henri Gergson in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brillant skill with which they have been presented.
1926 - Grazia Deledda (pen-name of Grazia Madesani née Deledda), for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general.
1925 - George Bernard Shaw for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty.
1924 - Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (pen-name of Reyment), for his great national epic, The Peasants.
1923 - William Butler Yeats for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.
1922 - Jacinto Benavente for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama.
1921 - Anatole France (pen-name of Jaques Anatole Thibault), in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament.
1920 - Knut Pedersen Hamsun for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil.
1919 - Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler in special appreciation of his epic, Olympian Spring.
1918 - The prize money for 1918 was allocated to the Special Fund of this prize section.
1917 - The prize was divided equally between: Karl Adolph Gjefferup for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals & Henrik Pontoppidan for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark.
1916 - Carl Gustaf Vernier Von Heidenstam in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature.
1915 - Romain Rolland as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings.
1914 - The prize money for 1914 was allocated to the Special Fund of this prize section.
1913 - Rabindranath Tagore because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with comsummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.
1912 - Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann primarily in recognition of his fruitful, varied and outstanding production in the realm of dramatic art.
1911 - Count Maurice (Mooris) Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck, in appreciation of his manysided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations.
1910 - Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse as a tribute to the consummate artistry, permeated with idealism, which he has demonstrated during his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories.
1909 - Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlof in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings.
1908 - Rudolf Christoph Eucken in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life.
1907 - Rudyard Kipling in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.
1906 - Giosue Carducci not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces.
1905 - Henryk Sienkiewicz because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer.
1904 - The prize was divided equally between: Frederic Mistral in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist & Jose Echegaray Y Eizaguirre in recognition of the numerous and brilliant compositions which, in an individual and original manner, have revived the great traditions of the Spanish drama.
1903 - Bjornstjerne Martinus Bjornson as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit.
1902 - Christian Mattias Theodor Mommsen the greatest living master of the art of historical writing, with special reference to his monumental work, A history of Rome.
1901 - Sully Prudhomme (pen-name of Rene Francois Armand), in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualitites of both heart and intellect.