A Nobel Refusal

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Jean-Paul Sartre became the only Nobel literature laureate to voluntarily decline the honor in 1964, but as newly released archives from the Swedish Academy reveal, it was at least partially due to a failure in correspondence. Sartre wrote to the Nobel committee that fall, as they were deliberating on a ballot with no runaway favorites; if his letter had arrived before they came to an agreement, the decision might have swung another way, perhaps resulting in a win for Mikhail Sholokhov a year early, or for Auden, who never received a Nobel prize. As he told the press after officially declining the award, Sartre was disinclined to associate with a brand, or to become one himself:

“The writer who accepts an honour of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honoured him,” he said at the time. “The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honourable circumstances, as in the present case.”


Dinah Fay is a poet, copywriter, and social media maven living in Brooklyn. She is the co-host of the Brick City Speaks reading series in Newark, where she is pursuing an MFA in writing from Rutgers University. More from this author →