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This Year, Guessers Favor a European Poet

October 3, 1995

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ A poet? A European? An outsider not on anybody’s list?

Not even British bookmakers dare guess the Nobel prize winner for literature, to be announced sometime in the coming weeks. But Swedish critics and publishers can’t keep from speculating.

Five of the six 1995 Nobel prizes will be announced next week. The literature prize announcement date has not yet been revealed, although traditionally it is on a Thursday near the others.

The awarding body, the Swedish Academy, stubbornly repeats that there are no quotas for style or nationality _ or age or sex, for that matter. Only the literary quality of the work is judged, the Academy insists.

But in Sweden, few believe such proud words.

``Now it would be about time for a European,″ says Torkel Rasmusson of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, North America and East Asia all have been honored with Nobel prizes for literature in the 1990s. The last European laureate was Spanish novelist Jose Cela in 1989.

Such reasoning failed last year, when people betting on a European watched the committee announce Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe. Still, speculation springs eternal.

``I am pretty sure it will be a poet,″ says Svante Weyler of the Norstedts publishing house in Stockholm.

The last poet honored was in 1991: Derek Walcott of St. Lucia in the West Indies. No European poet has won since Jaroslav Seifert of Czechoslovakia in 1984.

Weyler’s top bet was Irishman Seamus Heaney, but he also suggested the Polish poet Wizlawa Szymborska and some non-Europeans: John Ashbery of the United States, Dei Dao of China and Gennady Aigi, from Russia’s Chuvshia region.

The poets are said to be on the secret list that the Swedish Academy keeps and updates year to year.

Other perennial names are novelists Hugo Claus from Belgium, J.M. Coetzee from South Africa, Ismail Kadare from Albania, Jaan Kross from Estonia, Gyorgy Konrad from Hungary, Doris Lessing from Britain, and Jose Saramago and Antonio Lobo Antunes from Portugal.

Claus is a favorite with Swedish critics _ again. He is considered deeply European, a resonant trait in Sweden, now struggling to find its identity in the European Union. But Weyler says he doubts if Claus has a chance.

``It is a Greene case,″ Weyler says, referring to oft-losing candidate Graham Greene of Britain. ``He has been on the list too long.″

Maria Schottenius, critic at the newspaper Expressen, says she would like seeing Coetzee or Lessing awarded. But Coetzee might have slim chances because of his nationality _ fellow South African Nadine Gordimer won only four years ago _ and Lessing might prove a bit thick for the Swedish Academy.

``Lessing’s body of work is splendid, but it is very rich in words and that puts men off, I believe. There is too much talk to and fro, too much menstruation blood,″ she says.

She says the fact that two women have been awarded during the 1990s _ Gordimer and American Toni Morrison in 1993 _ ought not to disqualify women this year.

``They can give it to women for the next 20 years,″ Schottenius says. ``They have a lot to make up for.″

Since 1901, when the first Nobel Prize was awarded, only eight women have been honored.

Some Academy decisions are branded mistakes. Swedish critics think Pearl Buck, the best-selling American writer (1938) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1953), were undeserving.

The prizes, this year equal to $1 million each, are awarded Dec. 10 in Stockholm.

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