How to Get a Nobel Prize in Literature, Explained

Swedish Academy official, a Duke alumnus, will explain what goes on that we don't see

Sara Danius returns to Duke as permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.
Sara Danius returns to Duke as permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.

When Bob Dylan was announced as the surprise winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, the literary world was reminded that even as the Nobel Prize remains the most prestigious honor it the field, it has had more than its share of mystery and drama.

Duke alumnus Sara Danius will shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes during a free, public lecture on “How to Get a Nobel Prize in Literature” at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, in the Nasher Museum of Art auditorium. As permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which oversees the prize, Danius announces the winners every year. She has access to the academy’s archives, which are closed to the public for 50 years.

“Her position gives her an unusual behind the scenes knowledge of what actually goes on when someone gets the Nobel Prize for Literature,” said Toril Moi, James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies, and Professor of English and Theater Studies.

“Danius is also well known for her sense of humor and her style. The lecture promises to be at once a riveting, entertaining, and serious behind-the-scenes look at the selection process for the Nobel Prize in Literature.”

Her position regularly puts her in the public spotlight, as when she eloquently explained the reasons for awarded Dylan the Nobel Prize. Moi noted that she also is known in Sweden for her “stunning fashion sense,” including one dress for the Nobel ceremony she said was inspired by Balzac.

Danius earned her Ph.D. at Duke, working with Fredric Jameson on the question of modernism and technology. A Sweden native, she is professor of aesthetics at the University of Stockhom and docent of literature at Uppsala University. Danius graduated from University of Stockholm in 1986.

In addition to her Nobel talk, she will speak on “Balzac and Fashion: The Question of Realism” at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, in Jameson Gallery in the Friedl Building on East Campus.