Why Tomas Transtromer won the 2011 Nobel Prize for literature

Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature with poetry that "gives us fresh access to reality."

Jessica Gow/AP/File
In this 2001 file photo, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer is pictured in his home in Stockholm, Sweden. The 2011 Nobel Prize in literature was awarded Thursday, Oct. 6, to Transtromer, whose surrealistic works about the mysteries of the human mind won him acclaim as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since World War II.

Beating out bookies’ favorite Bob Dylan, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday.

One of Sweden’s foremost poets, the 80-year-old Mr. Transtromer is known for his subtle, multi-faceted poetry that explores man’s inner world, and his relationship with nature through introspective meditations, a result of his training in psychology.

The Swedish Academy said it recognized Transtromer “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”

With this, Transtromer is the eighth European to win the coveted literary award in the last 10 years, following German novelist Herta Muller in 2009, French writer JMG le Clezio in 2008, and British novelist Doris Lessing in 2007. (The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa won the award last year.) In recent years, the Swedish Academy has been criticized for being too Euro-centric, passing up writers from other parts of the world.

Thanks largely to the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy, interest in Swedish writing has skyrocketed in recent years, bringing the spotlight squarely on Transtromer. But he has long been a perennial favorite for the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award in his home country of Sweden, reports the AP, and in recent years, Swedish journalists wait outside his Stockholm apartment on the day the literature prize is announced.

Born in Stockholm in 1931, Transtromer began writing poetry at 16, then published his first collection of poems, “17 Dikter,” or “Seventeen Poems,” around the age of 23. He studied at the University of Stockholm and worked as a psychologist for juvenile offenders, gleaning insights into the human mind that he incorporated into his poetry. Transtromer's most famous works include the 1966 "Windows and Stones," in which he depicts themes from his many travels and the 1974 “Baltics.” Transtromer suffered a stroke in 1990, which affected his ability to talk, but he has continued writing – in fact, his 1996 collection Sorgegondolen sold 30,000 copies upon publication. His works have been translated into more than 50 languages.

Transtromer’s poetry often juxtaposes the deep, inner workings of the human mind with vivid scenes from the landscape of his own country. The Swedish poet “has described his poems as ‘meeting places,’ where dark and light, interior and exterior collide to give a sudden connection with the world, history or ourselves,” wrote the Guardian newspaper.

The octogenarian poet beat out betting favorites Bob Dylan, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, and Syrian poet Adonis, each of whom earned better odds with the British bookmaker, Ladbrokes.

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