Female Nobel Prize Winners in Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded every year, beginning in 1901, to distinguish writers who have “produced the most outstanding work in an ideal direction “, and will help with essays in the future many students. However, of all the winners in the Prize’s history, only 34 women have been awarded the prestigious honor, with only 11 of them having ever won the award in literature. Here is a brief look at these prominent women and why the Nobel committee chose each of them:

Selma Lagerlof, 1909

The first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, this Swedish author’s most popular work is Gösta Berlings Saga. She was awarded the prize for her “lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception”.

Grazia Deledda, 1926

Sardinian author whose most notable work is Elias Portolú. The committee referred to her writings as “idealistically inspired…[with] depth and sympathy”.

Sigrid Undset, 1928. Norwegian author, awarded with prize as a result of her “powerful descriptions of Northern life”, whose most well known English translation is The Wild Orchid.

Pearl Buck, 1938

One of the most well-known authors on the list, Pearl Buck is not only recognized by fans for her Oprah’s Book Club selection, The Good Earth, but she was recognized by the Nobel committee “for her rich and epic descriptions of peasant life in China and her biographical masterpieces”.

Gabriela Mistral, 1945

Her poems made her famous in both American and Latin America, and is most known for her collection of poems Desolación [Despair]. The Nobel committee called her “a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world”.

Nelly Sachs, 1966

Although the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature was split between Nelly Sachs and Shumel Yosef Agnon, Sachs’ poetry and plays recounting Jewish suffering, most notably Flucht und Verwandlung (Flight and Metamorphosis), earned her acclaim for her “outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing”.

Nadine Gordimer, 1991

A lapse of over 25 years from the time of Nelly Sachs’ Nobel shared win, until the next woman to be awarded the prize in 1991, Nadine Gordmier. Gordimer, a South African author of novels, short story collections and non-fiction, was celebrated by the Nobel committee for her “magnificent epic writing”.

Toni Morrison, 1993

Toni Morrison is the best-selling author of such popular novels as The Bluest EyeSula and Beloved, and is arguably the most recognized writer on this list. She was chosen as the Nobel winner because of her strong depictions of African American life and her “visionary force and poetic import”.

Wislawa Szymborska, 1996

Szymborska, a Polish poet with over 16 published collections, was noted by the Nobel committee for her poetry’s “ironic precision”.

Elfriede Jelinek, 2004

An Austrian author whose works often straddle the lines of several different art forms, she was recognized by the committee for her “musical flow of voices and counter-voices…that reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés”.

Doris Lessing, 2007

The oldest women to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and also the most outspoken and opinionated, Lessing was recognized by the committee for being the “epicist of the female experience”. Her work is often controversial and politically charged.