‘I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.’
This beautiful quote may actually conjure up the wrong images for many of us today. We could easily assume it’s about famous pop singers and movie stars, celebrities whose faces are now splattered across our lives—on our computers and TV screens, magazine covers and billboards—day after day after day.
Meanwhile new technology like smart phones, Apple’s iPad, the advent of e-books and devices like the Kindle all strive to make print and paper obsolete, pushing us steadily towards hard surfaces and lit-up screens.
There seems to be so much change now in the world of the written and the read that it’s hard to know whether to feel excited or worried or scared about the future.
In November 1895, when Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, changing thereon a small part of history with the creation of the Nobel Prizes, he can’t have imagined the ways of the world now. And he certainly couldn’t have pictured a work of one of his future Nobel Literature Prize winners being read on a touch-screen, with pixels acting as ink and a hard drive keeping it all bound together.
Or that many of the younger generation would opt to look at paparazzi photos of their favourite celebrities rather than sit down with a good story.
Nonetheless, certain traditions do continue strong, and between 1901 and 2009, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to 106 Nobel Laureates. And still, according to the official website, each winner is given a medal, a diploma and a monetary prize. In 1901, the amount was equivalent to about $19,000; in 2010 it is approximately $1.3 million. It’s a worthy sum for that one person a year who according to Nobel ‘shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.’
So despite these uncertain times, where some push for change and some cling to tradition, it seems appropriate to turn our focus on some literature greats who have come from Asia. Starting next week, with the help of some top international experts and academics, The Diplomat will be presenting a series on five Nobel Literature Laureates from the Asia-Pacific.
And as for the quote at the beginning, it comes from The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, who was awarded the Nobel Literature prize in 1954 for that book—which happens to be one of my favourites.