1969 Nobel Prize in Literature
Samuel Beckett
"for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation."
  • 23 October 1969 (announcement)
  • 10 December 1969
LocationStockholm, Sweden
Presented bySwedish Academy
First awarded1901
WebsiteOfficial website
← 1968 · Nobel Prize in Literature · 1970 →

The 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Irish author Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) "for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation."[1]


Main article: Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett produced his most important works – four novels, two dramas, a collection of short stories, essays, and art criticism – during an intensely creative period in the late 1940s. He had settled in France and wrote in both French and English. His experiences during World War II – insecurity, confusion, exile, hunger, deprivation – came to shape his writing. In his most famous work, the drama En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot, 1952), he examines the most basic foundations of our lives with strikingly dark humor.[2] Among his other famous literary works include Krapp's Last Tape (1958), Happy Days (1961) and The Molloy Trilogy (1955–58).

Poster for drama performance of Beckett's Waiting for Godot.



In total, the Swedish Academy received 184 nominations for 103 writers. Samuel Beckett was nominated in 26 occasions since 1957, and received 5 nominations for the 1969 prize with which he was awarded afterwards.[3]

Nominees included were André Malraux, Simone de Beauvoir, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda (awarded in 1971), Heinrich Böll (awarded in 1972), Eugenio Montale (awarded in 1975), Günter Grass (awarded in 1999), Jorge Amado, Louis Aragon, Witold Gombrowicz, Vladimir Nabokov, Alberto Moravia, Robert Graves, W. H. Auden and Graham Greene. 30 of the nominees were nominated first-time, among them Aimé Césaire, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (awarded in 1970), Arthur Miller, Jacques Maritain, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Edward Albee, Yasushi Inoue and Elias Canetti (awarded in 1981). The nominees who were with the highest number of nominations received – 8 nominations each – were André Malraux, Giuseppe Ungaretti and Tarjei Vesaas. The oldest nominee was Belgian writer Stijn Streuvels (aged 98) and the youngest were Ivan Drach and Hannu Salama (both aged 33 at the time). Five of the nominees were women: Anna Seghers, Nathalie Sarraute, Simone de Beauvoir, Marie Under and Elisaveta Bagryana. The 1951 Nobel laureate Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist nominated his countrymen and colleagues in the Swedish Academy, authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson who would share the prize in 1974.[4]

The authors Alejandro G. Abadilla, Giovanni Comisso, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Richmal Crompton, Floyd Dell, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Emilio Frugoni, Jack Kerouac, Eugenia Kielland, Norman Lindsay, Erika Mann, Elizaveta Polonskaya, Phraya Anuman Rajadhon, Zoila Ugarte de Landivar, and John Wyndham died in 1969 without having been nominated the prize. The Polish playwright Witold Gombrowicz and Belgian writer Stijn Streuvels died months before the announcement.

Official list of nominees and their nominators for the prize
No. Nominee Country Genre(s) Nominator(s)
1 Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898–1987)  Egypt novel, drama, essays, short story, biography Shawqi Daif (1910–2005)
2 Edward Albee (1928–2016)  United States drama Hanspeter Schelp (?)
3 Jorge Amado (1912–2001)  Brazil novel, short story
4 Jerzy Andrzejewski (1909–1983)  Poland novel, short story Kristine Heltberg (1924–2003)
5 Louis Aragon (1897–1982)  France novel, short story, poetry, essays
  • Michel Arrivé (1936–2017)
  • Jean Gaudon (1926–2019)
  • André-Marc Vial (1917–1987)
  • Robert Ricatte (1913–1995)
6 Wystan Hugh Auden (1907–1973)  United Kingdom
 United States
poetry, essays, screenplay
7 Elisaveta Bagryana (1893–1991)  Bulgaria poetry, translation Anna Kamenova (1894–1982)
8 Agustí Bartra (1908–1982)  Spain poetry, songwriting, translation Manuel Durán (1925–2020)
9 Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)  Ireland novel, drama, poetry
10 Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986)  Argentina poetry, essays, translation, short story
  • Arnold Chapman (1902–1974)
  • Helmut Kreuzer (1927–2004)
  • Manuel Durán (1925–2020)
  • Helen Gardner (1908–1986)
11 Emil Boyson (1897–1979)  Norway poetry, novel, translation Asbjørn Aarnes (1923–2013)
12 Heinrich Böll (1917–1985)  Germany novel, short story
  • Hans Schwerte (1909–1999)
  • Karl Theodor Hyldgaard-Jensen (1917–1997)
  • Herbert Morgan Waidson (1916–1988)
13 Michel Butor (1926–2016)  France poetry, novel, essays, translation Lars Gyllensten (1921–2006)
14 Elias Canetti (1905–1994)  Bulgaria
 United Kingdom
novel, drama, memoir, essays Keith Spalding (1913–2002)
15 Josep Carner (1884–1970)  Spain poetry, drama, translation Manuel Durán (1925–2020)
16 Jean Cassou (1897–1986)  France novel, essays, literary criticism, poetry, translation Giannēs Koutsocheras (1904–1994)
17 Paul Celan (1920–1970)  Romania
poetry, translation
  • Ernst Wilhelm Meyer (1892–1969)
  • Dietrich Jöns (1924–2011)
  • Gerhart Baumann (1920–2006)
  • Heinz Politzer (1910–1978)
18 Aimé Césaire (1913–2008)  Martinique poetry, drama, essays Union of Finnish Writers
19 André Chamson (1900–1983)  France novel, essays
  • Yves Gandon (1899–1975)
  • French Centre – PEN International
20 René Char (1907–1988)  France poetry Henri Peyre (1901–1988)
21 Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986)  France novel, drama, memoir, philosophy, essays, short story Henning Fenger (1921–1985)
22 Joseph Delteil (1894–1978)  France poetry, novel, short story, essays Charles Camproux (1908–1994)
23 Ivan Drach (1936–2018)  Ukraine poetry, literary criticism, drama Omeljan Pritsak (1919–2006)
24 Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902–1987)  Brazil poetry, essays Artur Lundkvist (1906–1991)
25 Lawrence Durrell (1912–1990)  United Kingdom novel, short story, poetry, drama, essays Haydn Trevor Mason (1929–2018)
26 Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–1990)   Switzerland drama, novel, short story, essays
  • Ernst Wilhelm Meyer (1892–1969)
  • Gustav Siebenmann (born 1923)
  • Werner Betz (1912–1980)
27 Rabbe Enckell (1903–1974)  Finland short story, poetry Carl Fredrik Sandelin (born 1925)
28 José Maria Ferreira de Castro (1898–1978)  Portugal novel
29 Edward Morgan Forster (1879–1970)  United Kingdom novel, short story, drama, essays, biography, literary criticism
30 Max Frisch (1911–1991)   Switzerland novel, drama
  • John Stephenson Spink (1909–1985)
  • Hans Fromm (1919–2008)
  • Andri Peer (1921–1985)
31 Étienne Gilson (1884–1978)  France philosophy Pierre Courcelle (1912–1980)
32 Jean Giono (1895–1970)  France novel, short story, essays, poetry, drama Edmond Jarno (1905–1985)
33 Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969)  Poland short story, novel, drama Jan Kott (1914–2001)
34 Günter Grass (1927–2015)  Germany novel, drama, poetry, essays
  • Hans Schwerte (1909–1999)
  • Kauko Aatos Ojala (1919–1987)
  • Hans Fromm (1919–2008)
  • Henry Caraway Hatfield (1912–1995)
  • Manfred Windfuhr (born 1930)
35 Robert Graves (1895–1985)  United Kingdom history, novel, poetry, literary criticism, essays
36 Graham Greene (1904–1991)  United Kingdom novel, short story, autobiography, essays Yves Le Hir (1919–2005)
37 Jorge Guillén (1893–1984)  Spain poetry, literary criticism
38 Louis Guilloux (1899–1980)  France novel, short story, memoir Jean-Bertrand Barrère (1914–1985)
39 Gunnar Gunnarsson (1889–1975)  Iceland novel, short story, poetry
  • Johannes Brøndum-Nielsen (1881–1977)
  • Þóroddur Guðmundsson (1904–1972)
40 Hồ Hữu Tường (1910–1980)  Vietnam essays, short story, translation Đông Hồ (1906–1969)
41 Vladimír Holan (1905–1980)  Czechoslovakia poetry, essays
42 Taha Hussein (1889–1973)  Egypt novel, short story, poetry, translation
  • Sheikh Mustafa Al-Amin (1889–1988)
  • Abdel Hamid Gouda al-Sahhar (1913–1974)
43 Yasushi Inoue (1907–1991)  Japan novel, poetry, short story, essays Erich Ruprecht (1906–1997)
44 Eugène Ionesco (1909–1994)  Romania
drama, essays Eyvind Johnson (1900–1976)
45 Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1894–1980)  Poland poetry, essays, drama, translation, short story, novel Józef Trypućko (1910–1983)
46 Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh (1892–1997)  Iran short story, translation Jes Peter Asmussen (1928–2002)
47 Eyvind Johnson (1900–1976)  Sweden novel, short story Pär Lagerkvist (1891–1974)
48 Marcel Jouhandeau (1888–1979)  France short story, novel Jean Gaulmier (1905–1997)
49 Pierre Jean Jouve (1887–1976)  France poetry, novel, literary criticism Henry Bouillier (1924–2014)
50 Bernhard Karlgren (1889–1978)  Sweden history, philology, translation Walter Fuchs (1914–1993)
51 Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981)  Croatia
poetry, drama, short story, novel, essays
52 Karl Krolow (1915–1999)  Germany poetry, essays, translation Emil Ernst Ploss (1925–1972)
53 Siegfried Lenz (1926–2014)  Germany novel, short story, essays, drama Ernst Wilhelm Meyer (1892–1969)
54 Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2008)  Belgium
philosophy, essays
55 Väinö Linna (1920–1992)  Finland novel Iiro Ilkka Kajanto (1925–1997)
56 Robert Lowell (1917–1977)  United States poetry, translation William Alfred (1922–1999)
57 Hugh MacLennan (1907–1990)  Canada novel, essays Lawrence Lande (1906–1998)
58 André Malraux (1901–1976)  France novel, essays, literary criticism
59 Jacques Maritain (1882–1973)  France philosophy Charles Dédéyan (1910–2003)
60 Gustave Lucien Martin-Saint-René (1888–1973)  France poetry, novel, essays, literary criticism, drama, songwriting, short story
61 Harry Martinson (1904–1978)  Sweden poetry, novel, drama, essays
  • Arthur Arnholtz (1901–1973)
  • Pär Lagerkvist (1891–1974)
62 László Mécs (1895–1978)  Hungary poetry, essays Watson Kirkconnell (1895–1977)
63 Arthur Miller (1915–2005)  United States drama, screenplay, essays Robert Ernest Spiller (1896–1988)
64 Vilhelm Moberg (1898–1973)  Sweden novel, drama, history Gunnar Tilander (1894–1973)
65 Eugenio Montale (1896–1981)  Italy poetry, translation
  • Egon Huber (1907–1986)
  • Paul Renucci (1915–1976)
  • Frederick Jones (1925–2011)
  • Elie Poulenard (1901–1985)
  • Uberto Limentani (1913–1989)
66 Alberto Moravia (1907–1990)  Italy novel, literary criticism, essays, drama Jacques Robichez (1914–1999)
67 Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977)  Russia
 United States
novel, short story, poetry, drama, translation, literary criticism, memoir Simon Karlinsky (1924–2009)
68 Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)  Chile poetry
  • Noël Salomon (1917–1977)
  • Einar Bragi (1921–2005)
  • The Chilean PEN-Club
69 Germán Pardo García (1902–1991)  Colombia
poetry James Willis Robb (1918–2010)
70 José María Pemán (1897–1981)  Spain poetry, drama, novel, essays, screenplay
  • Manuel Halcón (1900–1989)
  • Francisco Sánchez-Castañer (1908–1981)
71 Robert Pinget (1919–1997)  France novel, drama Artur Lundkvist (1906–1991)
72 Ezra Pound (1885–1972)  United States poetry, essays Hans Galinsky (1909–1991)
73 Anthony Powell (1905–2000)  United Kingdom novel, drama, essays, memoir Jean Hamard (1920-2012).
74 Raymond Queneau (1903–1976)  France novel, poetry, essays T. van den Heuvel (?)
75 Jean Rateau-Landeville (1894–1972)  France essays Pierre Flottes (1895–1994)
76 Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922–2008)  France novel, short story, essays, screenplays Henry Olsson (1896–1985)
77 Gustave Roud (1897–1976)   Switzerland poetry, translation Henri Perrochon (1899–1990)
78 Hans Ruin (1891–1980)  Finland
philosophy Arthur Arnholtz (1901–1973)
79 Hannu Salama (born 1936)  Finland novel, short story, poetry Osmo Hormia (1926–1983)
80 Nathalie Sarraute (1900–1999)  Russia
novel, drama, essays Lars Gyllensten (1921–2006)
81 Anna Seghers (1900–1983)  Germany novel, short story Heinz Kamnitzer (1917–2001)
82 Jaroslav Seifert (1901–1986)  Czechoslovakia poetry Roman Jacobson (1896–1982)
83 Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001)  Senegal poetry, essays
  • Henri Peyre (1901–1988)
  • Jacqueline Duchemin (1910–1988)
84 Ignazio Silone (1900–1978)  Italy novel, short story, essays, drama Arthur Ernest Gordon (1902–1989)
85 Claude Simon (1913–2005)  France novel, essays Eyvind Johnson (1900–1976)
86 Ton Smerdel (1904–1970)  Croatia philology, poetry, essays, literary criticism, translation Christiaan Alphonsus van den Berk (1919–1979)
87 Aleksandr Solzjenitsyn (1918–2008)  Russia novel, short story, essays
  • Denzel Carr (1900–1983)
  • Yakov Malkiel (1914–1998)
  • The Swedish PEN-Club
88 Zaharia Stancu (1902–1974)  Romania poetry, novel, philosophy, essays
89 Stijn Streuvels (1871–1969)  Belgium novel, short story Maurice Gilliams (1900–1982)
90 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973)  United Kingdom novel, short story, poetry, philology, essays, literary criticism Richard Ernest Wycherley (1909–1985)
91 Friedebert Tuglas (1886–1971)  Estonia short story, literary criticism Union of Finnish Writers
92 Pietro Ubaldi (1886–1972)  Italy philosophy, essays Academia Santista de Letras
93 Marie Under (1883–1980)  Estonia poetry Union of Finnish Writers
94 Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888–1970)  Italy poetry, essays, literary criticism
  • Maria Bellonci (1902–1986)
  • Egon Huber (1907–1986)
  • Carlo Bo (1911–2001)
  • Marco Scovazzi (1923–1971)
  • Marcello Gigante (1923–2001)
  • Gianfranco Contini (1912–1990)
  • Oreste Macri (1913–1998)
  • Piero Bigongiari (1914–1997)
  • Giacomo Devoto (1897–1974)
  • Lanfranco Caretti (1915–1995)
  • Domenico De Robertis (1921–2011)
95 Tarjei Vesaas (1897–1970)  Norway poetry, novel
  • Carl-Eric Thors (1920–1986)
  • Erik Frykman (1905–1980)
  • Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt (1917–1996)
  • Bror Åkerblom (1908–1984)
  • Sigmund Skard (1903–1995)
  • Elie Poulenard (1901–1985)
  • Harald Noreng (1913–2006)
  • Odd Bang-Hansen (1908–1984)
96 Simon Vestdijk (1898–1971)  Netherlands novel, poetry, essays, translation
97 Gerard Walschap (1898–1989)  Belgium novel, drama, essays
98 Mika Waltari (1908–1979)  Finland short story, novel, poetry, drama, essays, screenplay Esko Pennanen (1912–1990)
99 Arnold Wesker (1932–2016)  United Kingdom drama, novel, essays Claude Albert Mayer (1918–1998)
100 Patrick White (1912–1990)  Australia novel, short story, drama, poetry, autobiography
101 Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)  United States drama, novel, short story
  • Ernest Lee Tuveson (1915–1996)
  • Robert Halsband (1914–1989)
102 Edmund Wilson (1895–1972)  United States essays, literary criticism, short story, drama Robert Brustein (1927–2023)
103 Carl Zuckmayer (1896–1977)  Germany drama, screenplay

Prize decision

The decision to award Samuel Beckett was controversial within the Swedish Academy. While some members of the Nobel committee was enthusiastic about the idea of awarding Beckett, the Nobel committee chairman Anders Österling had serious doubts that Beckett's writing was in the spirit of Alfred Nobel's will. In 1964 he had argued that he “would almost consider a Nobel prize for him as an absurdity in his own style”. Beckett was a leading candidate for the 1968 prize along with André Malraux, W.H. Auden and the Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, but was rejected in favour of Kawabata.[5]

The Nobel committee, which in 1969 consisted of Anders Österling, Karl Ragnar Gierow, Lars Gyllensten, Eyvind Johnson, Artur Lundkvist and Henry Olsson,[6] disagreed on the candidates to the extent that no jointly proposal could be presented to the Swedish Academy. Österling proposed André Malraux, with Graham Greene as his second proposal and Giuseppe Ungaretti (possibly shared with Eugenio Montale) as the third proposal. Johnson also proposed André Malraux, with Claude Simon as his second proposal and Patrick White as the third proposal. Gierow, Gyllensten, Lundkvist and Olsson jointly proposed Samuel Beckett, with Lundkvist adding the proposals Patrick White and Claude Simon. In his report Lundkvist opposed the candidacy of André Malraux, arguing that his major works was too far back in time and had lost some of its relevance. Lundkvist also regretted that the candidacies of the négritude-authors Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor had not been taken in consideration by the Nobel committee and recommended them for future consideration.[7]

Despite Österling's reservations Beckett was awarded in 1969. The Nobel committee had received five nominations for Beckett that year, but was split as Österling and one other member supported a prize to André Malraux. Other nominations that year included Simone de Beauvoir, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Graham Greene. While Österling acknowledged the possibility that behind Beckett's “depressing motives” might lie a “secret defence of humanity”, he argued that in the eyes of most readers it “remains an artistically staged ghost poetry, characterised by a bottomless contempt for the human condition”. Beckett's main supporter on the committee, Karl Ragnar Gierow, on the other hand, argued that Beckett's “black vision” was “not the expression of animosity and nihilism” but “portrays humanity as we have all seen it, at the moment of its most severe violation”, and searches for the depths of degradation because even there, “there is the possibility of rehabilitation”. Beckett was awarded and in his award ceremony speech Gierow expanded on his arguments, saying Beckett's work goes “to the depths” because “it is only there that pessimistic thought and poetry can work their miracles".[8]


While not rejecting the prize, Beckett did not attend the prize ceremony, nor did he deliver a Nobel lecture.[9] His wife described his reaction to the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as a "catastrophe". He quickly donated the prize money, much of it to Trinity College Dublin.[10]


  1. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1969 nobelprize.org
  2. ^ Samuel Beckett nobelprize.org
  3. ^ Nominations – Samuel Beckett nobelprize.org
  4. ^ Nomination archive nobelprize.org
  5. ^ Alison Flood Samuel Beckett rejected as unsuitable for the Nobel prize in 1968 The Guardian 10 January 2018
  6. ^ "Nobelkommitténs sammansättning och utlåtande 1969". Svenska Akademien.
  7. ^ "Nobelarkivet 1969". Svenska Akademien.
  8. ^ Alison Flood 'Ghost poetry': fight over Samuel Beckett's Nobel win revealed in archives The Guardian 17 January 2020
  9. ^ Samuel Beckett - Nobel Lecture nobelprize.org
  10. ^ The Nobel and the ignoble (Part 1) The Irish Times 5 December 1998