Syrian poet Adonis leads the pack in betting for 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature winner

Thomas Pynchon is the American author closest to top, but still considered a long shot with odds of 16 to 1.

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    Syrian poet Adonis recently garnered attention for publishing a letter to the Syrian president asking him to return decision-making to the people.
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As Thursday’s announcement of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature winner draws near, speculation in the literary world is running rampant.

But if you’re a betting person (like the visitors to the website Ladbrokes, which posts odds on who will win the prize), it might be wise not to put your money on an American. Thomas Pynchon, “Gravity’s Rainbow” author, is the US writer closest to the top of the Ladbrokes list with odds of 16 to 1, but there are five authors with better odds ahead of him, including Syrian poet Adonis who currently leading the pack with odds of 4 to 1. American writer Philip Roth, an often popular choice with the US literature community, has odds of 25 to 1. Fellow Americans Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates also have odds of 25 to 1 on the website.

Some say the Nobel literature committee would lean toward Adonis in a year where the Arab Spring revolutions brought the Middle East attention, but pundits predict exactly the opposite – that Adonis will lose out because the Nobel judges won’t want to appear politically biased.

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“The Academy is very keen to point out that they don't have a political agenda,” Stephen Farran-Lee, the senior editor at Bonniers, a Swedish publishing company, told the AFP.

Adonis recently became the first Arabic-speaking writer to win the Goethe Prize, one of Germany’s most prestigious awards for writing. He also made headlines in June, the same month he won the prize, when he published a letter in a Lebanese newspaper to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, asking him to stop the violence that had occurred and return decision-making to the Syrian people.

Overall, English-speaking authors have not fared well in the Nobel sweepstakes in recent years. Toni Morrison was the last American to win the prize in 1993 and Saul Bellow was the last Canadian recipient in 1976.

Controversy arose over the prize in 2008 when Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury, said American writers are less likely to win the literature prize because the American writing community is too isolated from the rest of the world.

“The US is too isolated, too insular," Engdahl said. "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining. You can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world, not the United States.”

Many members of the American literary community were offended by the remarks.

“You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures," said editor of The New Yorker David Remnick at the time.

Farran-Lee told the AFP he thinks writers like Cormac McCarthy may not win the prize because their works are actually too well-known.

“The whole idea of the prize is not to be mainstream,” he said.

One-hundred-and-four writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature since it was first awarded in 1901. Of those 104, there have been 10 US winners, starting with Sinclair Lewis in 1930.

Each Nobel Prize includes a $1.3 million purse, a gold medal, and a diploma. The awards – including those for physiology, physics, chemistry, peace, and economics – are handed out each year on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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