To date, out of 113 Nobels in literature, women have received 14.
IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, THE PAST WINNERS INCLUDE:
How many of their works do you know?
Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (Swedish, 20 November 1858 – 16 March 1940) was a Swedish author. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and most widely known for her children’s book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, a work of fiction published in two volumes, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils in 1906 and Further Adventures of Nils in 1907.
Grazia Deledda (27 September 1871 – 15 August 1936) was an Italian writer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926 “for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island [i.e. Sardinia] and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general”. She was the first Italian woman to receive this honor. In Deledda’s novels there is always a strong connection between places and people, feelings and environment. The environment depicted is mostly that one harsh of her native Sardinia. Deledda has not gained much recognition as a feminist writer potentially due to her themes of women’s pain and suffering as opposed to women’s autonomy.
Sigrid Undset (20 May 1882 – 10 June 1949) was a Norwegian novelist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.
Undset was born in Kalundborg, Denmark, but her family moved to Norway when she was two years old. Her best-known work is Kristin Lavransdatter, a trilogy about life in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, portrayed through the experiences of a woman from birth until death. Its three volumes were published between 1920 and 1922.
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (June 26, 1892 – March 6, 1973), also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu (Chinese: 賽珍珠), was an American writer and novelist. As the daughter of missionaries, Buck spent most of her life before 1934 in China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces”. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. After returning to the United States in 1935, she continued writing prolifically and became a prominent advocate of the rights of women and minority groups, and wrote widely on Asian cultures, becoming particularly well known for her efforts on behalf of Asian and mixed-race adoption.
Gabriela Mistral (Spanish: [ɡaˈβɾjela misˈt̪ɾal]; 7 April 1889 – 10 January 1957) was the pseudonym of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and feminist. She was the first Latin American (and, so far, the only Ibero-American woman) to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she did in 1945 “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”. Some central themes in her poems are nature, betrayal, love, a mother’s love, sorrow and recovery, travel, and Latin American identity as formed from a mixture of Native American and European influences. Her portrait also appears on the 5,000 Chilean peso bank note. Try Madwomen: The “Locas mujeres” Poems of Gabriela Mistral, a Bilingual Edition.
Nelly Sachs (10 December 1891 – 12 May 1970) was a Jewish German poet and playwright whose experiences resulting from the rise of the Nazis in World War II Europe transformed her into a poignant spokeswoman for the grief and yearnings of her fellow Jews. Her best-known play is Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels (1950); other works include collections of poetry In den Wohnungen des Todes (1947), Flucht und Verwandlung (1959), Fahrt ins Staublose (1961), and Suche nach Lebenden (1971).
Nadine Gordimer (20 November 1923 – 13 July 2014) was a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognized as a woman “who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity”. Gordimer’s writing dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. Under that regime, works such as Burger’s Daughter and July’s People were banned. She was active in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress during the days when the organization was banned. She was also active in HIV/AIDS causes. One of Gordimer’s best-known works is The Conservationist, which won the Booker Prize.
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931) is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye (1970) and Beloved (1987). She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize in 1993. On May 29, 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Morrison serves as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University.
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska(2 July 1923 – 1 February 2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Prowent, which has since become part of Kórnik, she later resided in Kraków until the end of her life. She is described as a “Mozart of Poetry”.In Poland, Szymborska’s books have reached sales rivaling prominent prose authors: although she once remarked in a poem, “Some Like Poetry” (“Niektórzy lubią poezję”), that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art. View with a Grain of Sand is an excellent glimpse of her genius.
Elfriede Jelinek (German: [ɛlˈfʀiːdə ˈjɛlinɛk]; born 20 October 1946) is an Austrian playwright and novelist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004 for her “musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power. Try her novel The Piano Teacher, which was also made into a major motion picture.
Doris May Lessing (née Tayler; 22 October 1919 – 17 November 2013) was a British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer and short story writer. Her novels include the sequence of five novels collectively called Children of Violence (1952–69), The Golden Notebook (1962), and five novels collectively known as Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–1983). The Diary of a Good Neighbor provides another side of Lessing.To demonstrate the struggles that unknown writers face, Ms. Lessing submitted two novels for publication under the name of Jane Somers: Diary of a Good Neighbor and If the Old Could.
Herta Müller (born 17 August 1953) is a German novelist, poet, essayist and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Nițchidorf, Timiș County in Romania, her native language is German. Since the early 1990s she has been internationally established, and her works have been translated into more than twenty languages.Try The Hunger Angel, in which seventeen-year-old Leo Auberg is deported to a labor camp in the Soviet Union in January, 1945. Leo spends the next five years in a coke processing plant, struggling; and Müller excels at poetically and forcefully depicting life in the colony.
Alice Ann Munro (born 10 July 1931) is a Canadian author. Munro’s work has been described as having revolutionized the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backward in time. Her stories have been said to “embed more than announce, reveal more than parade.” Lives of Girls and Women is a great read.