1974 Nobel Prize in Literature
Eyvind Johnson and
Harry Martinson
Johnson "for a narrative art, farseeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom," and Martinson "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos."
  • 4 October 1974 (announcement)
  • 10 December 1974
LocationStockholm, Sweden
Presented bySwedish Academy
First awarded1901
WebsiteOfficial website
← 1973 · Nobel Prize in Literature · 1975 →

The 1974 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded jointly to Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson (1900–1976) "for a narrative art, farseeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom" and Harry Martinson (1904–1978) "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos."[1] The winners were announced in October 1974 by Karl Ragnar Gierow, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, and later sparked heavy criticisms from the literary world.[2]

At the award ceremony on 10 December 1974, Karl Ragnar Gierow of the Swedish Academy said that Johnson and Martinson

"are representative of the many proletarian writers or working-class poets who, on a wide front, broke into our literature, not to ravage and plunder, but to enrich it with their fortunes. Their arrival meant an influx of experience and creative energy, the value of which can hardly be exaggerated."[3]

It is the fourth (after 1904, 1917, and 1966), and as of yet last, occasion when the Nobel Prize in Literature has been shared between two individuals.[4]


Authors Eyvind Johnson, Annicka Jönsson, Harry Martinson and Gabriel Jönsson at a writers' meeting.

Eyvind Johnson

Main article: Eyvind Johnson

Individual, moral, societal, and political issues are the recurring themes in Eyvind Johnson's literary works. De fyra främlingarna ("The Four Strangers"), a collection of short stories, served as his literary debut in 1924. Romanen om Olof ("The Novel about Olof"), his four autobiographical novels that appeared between 1934 and 1937, is regarded as one of his most important works. In the trilogy about Krilon (1941–1943), in which the world is represented allegorically, he took a strong stand against fascism and nazism of his day.[5] His other famous works include Strändernas svall ("Return to Ithaca", 1946), Drömmar om rosor och eld ("Dreams of Roses and Fire", 1949), and Hans nådes tid ("The Days of His Grace", 1960).[6]

Harry Martinson

Main article: Harry Martinson

The poetry and prose by Harry Martinson are both written in a unique and passionate style. His experiences as a young seaman and hobo, as well as his difficult and unloving childhood, are among the themes. He cares much about nature and is interested in science, which is reflected in his philosophical views and depictions of the natural world. Martinson's most well-known composition, the Aniara poetry collection from 1956, tells the story of a spaceship that departs from Earth following a horrific nuclear war but subsequently deviates from its intended path.[7] His other notable works include Kap Farväl ("Cape Farewell", 1933), Nässlorna blomma ("Flowering Nettle", 1935), and Vägen till Klockrike ("The Road", 1948).[8]


Eyvind Johnson was first nominated for the prize in 1962 and then every year until 1971.[9] During this period Johnson declined to be considered for the prize as he himself was a member of the Swedish Academy's Nobel committee (he resigned from the committee in 1972).[10][11] Harry Martinson was first nominated in 1964, and had by 1971 been nominated six times by five different nominators.[12][13] In 1965, Nobel committee member Erik Lindegren suggested the idea of a shared prize to the two authors: "They are really the opposite of everything provinsional."[13]

In the early 1970's Johnson and Martinson was nominated individually for the prize by their colleague in the Swedish Academy, the 1951 Nobel Prize laureate Pär Lagerkvist, and Nobel committee member Henry Olsson nominated them for a shared prize in 1970.[13] Another Nobel committee member, Artur Lundkvist however strongly opposed that the Academy should award the Nobel prize to its own members.[14] In his memoirs, Academy member Lars Gyllensten said that Johnson and Martinson had not been nominated by any member of the Academy in 1974 and justified the decision to award them, arguing that "The consequence of principally excluding members of the Academy as prize candidates would mean that the Academy could only elect second rate authors."[15]

Prize decision

As three members of the Swedish Academy had recently died in 1974, and Johnson and Martinson themselves did not take any part in the prize decision, the prize decision for the 1974 Nobel Prize in Literature was taken by thirteen individuals. Member Anders Österling revealed that the prize decision was "very unanimous", and that the other main contenders for the prize included Graham Greene, Yasar Kemal and V. S. Naipaul.[16]


The joint selection of Eyvind Johnson and Martinson for the Nobel Prize was very controversial as both were members of the Swedish Academy, the institution that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature.[17] Graham Greene, Jorge Luis Borges, Saul Bellow (awarded in 1976) and Vladimir Nabokov were favourites to win the award that year.[18]

The choice of Johnson and Martinson was heavily criticised by the press in their home country, mainly because the Swedish Academy awarded two of their own members. The most fierce critic, Sven Delblanc in Expressen, called it "a catastrophic decision" and said that the little credibility of the Nobel Prize in Literature that was left "would be wiped out with mockery, rolling around the world". He thought awarding the two academy members was a case of corruption: “There exists no strong international opinion advocating these authors. The choice reflects a lack of judgment by the academy. And lack of judgment in a serious context like this can only too easily be interpreted as corruption through camaraderie. Mutual admiration is one thing, but this smells almost like embezzlement.”[19] The choices was also attacked by some other younger literature figures, saying the authors had written their best works too far back in time and that neither had won any international reputation.[20][2] The well-known Swedish writer Karl Vennberg however said he favoured the prize: “I find that if I myself had a Nobel Prize to give, I would have been prepared to give Harry Martinson one as far back as 1932.”[2]

Within the Swedish Academy, member Artur Lundkvist strongly opposed the prize decision and urged Johnson and Martinson to not accept the prize, thinking it would make them unhappy. Lundkvist later said he thought the award brought the authors to a too early death.[21]

According to academy member Lars Gyllensten both authors were badly affected by the negativity and criticism following the award. The sensitive Martinson found it hard to cope with the criticism following his award, and died on 11 February 1978 at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm after cutting his stomach open with a pair of scissors in what has been described as a "hara-kiri-like manner".[22][23]

Award ceremony

At the award ceremony on 10 December 1974 in Stockholm Concert Hall Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson received their awards. At the ceremony Alexander Solzhenitsyn also received his 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, after finally having been allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn's presence was much noticed in the Swedish press.[24]


  1. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1974 nobelprize.org
  2. ^ a b c "2 Swedish Writers Win the Nobel Prize". New York Times. 4 October 1974.
  3. ^ Karl Ragnar Gierow: Award ceremony speech nobelprize.org
  4. ^ Facts on the Nobel Prize in Literature nobelprize.org
  5. ^ Eyvind Johnson – Facts nobelprize.org
  6. ^ Eyvind Johnson britannica.com
  7. ^ Harry Martinson – Facts nobelprize.org
  8. ^ Harry Martinson britannica.com
  9. ^ "Eyvind Johnson Nomination archive". nobelprize.org.
  10. ^ Kaj Schueler (2 January 2013). "Eyvind Johnson ville inte komma i fråga för Nobelpriset". Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish).
  11. ^ "Ledamotsregister". Svenska Akademien.
  12. ^ "Harry Martinson Nomination archive". nobelprize.org.
  13. ^ a b c Johan Svedjedal Min egen elds kurir. Harry Martinsons författarliv, Albert Bonniers förlag 2023, p. 628
  14. ^ Kaj Schueler (2 January 2023). "Nobelpristagaren ansågs stödja terroristerna". Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish).
  15. ^ Lars Gyllensten Minnen, bara minnen, Albert Bonniers förlag 2000, p.272
  16. ^ Johan Svedjedal Min egen elds kurir. Harry Martinsons författarliv, Albert Bonniers förlag 2023, p. 610-612
  17. ^ Örjan Lindberger "Människan i tiden. Eyvind Johnsons liv och författarskap 1938–1976" Bonniers 1990, pp. 445–447
  18. ^ Raúl Fain Binda BBC Mundo (1 January 1970). "BBC Mundo – Noticias – Londres 2012: el cruel destino del atleta que llega cuarto". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  19. ^ Örjan Lindberger Människan i tiden: Eyvind Johnsons liv och författarskap 1938-1976 Albert Bonniers förlag 1990, p.455-457
  20. ^ Örjan Lindberger Människan i tiden: Eyvind Johnsons liv och författarskap 1938-1976 Albert Bonniers förlag 1990, p.455
  21. ^ Peter Lennon (28 December 1980). "Why Graham Greene Hasn't Won A Nobel Prize and Solzhenitsyn Has". Washington Post.
  22. ^ Hansson, Anita (31 August 2000). "Martinson begick harakiri" [Martinson committed hara-kiri]. wwwc.aftonbladet.se. Aftonbladet. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  23. ^ Gyllensten, Lars (2000). Minnen, bara minnen [Memories, just memories] (in Swedish). Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag. ISBN 91-0-057140-7. SELIBR 7150260.
  24. ^ "Solzjenitsyn på besök i Stockholm 1974". Svenska Akademien.