Poets poised for Nobel glory; Swede is favorite

LONDON Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:05am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Swedish poet and writer Tomas Transtromer is the bookmakers' favorite to win the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, with odds also suggesting American authors are once again set to be overlooked.

British company Ladbrokes have given Transtromer, 79, odds of 5/1, or one chance in six of winning. He is ahead of three other poets backed at 8/1 -- Poland's Adam Zagajewski, South Korea's Ko Un and Syria's Adonis.

The first non-poet in the bookmakers' ranking is Paraguay's Nestor Amarilla, a playwright who was reported to have been shortlisted for the world's top literary award, although nominees are officially kept a close secret.

"Tomas Transtromer must surely be in pole position," said David Williams of Ladbrokes. "He's long been mentioned for the prize and we feel his work finally deserves this recognition."

The winner of the award, which can thrust relatively obscure authors into the international limelight, is notoriously difficult to guess, with a series of surprises in recent years.

The prize has also been overshadowed by perceptions of anti-American bias on the committee that whittles the nominations sent in from around the world down to a shortlist which is then voted on by the Swedish Academy.

In 2008, committee member Horace Engdahl was quoted as saying U.S. literature was "too insular," prompting an angry response from some leading American writers.

Ladbrokes have put U.S. authors Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth, both perennial also-rans in the Nobel race, among the 18/1 outsiders for the prize, worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million) to the winner last year.

Four female writers -- Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and A.S. Byatt -- are also at 18/1.

COMMITTEE DEFENDS ITS INDEPENDENCE

Per Wastberg, a Swedish author and chairman of the committee on which Engdahl sits, denied there was any anti-American sentiment among its five members.

"We really make a great effort to study and take in all sorts of literatures -- Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and obviously American literature which has such an impact," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"It's a pity (the row erupted)," he added. "These utterances by Engdahl ... were a bit taken out of context.

"We do concentrate on individual writers regardless of their ethnicity or country because it's not a prize for a country.

"When (Portugal's Jose) Saramago got it (in 1998), Portugal was absolutely ecstatic, but Saramago himself thought Portugal was a terrible country and had gone to the Canary Islands."

Asked whether he thought his time had come to receive an award last won by an American in 1993 with Toni Morrison, Roth told Reuters: "I really don't care and I don't think anybody else here cares either.

"I don't think any other American writers care. We have got the most powerful literature in the world. We have had it for the last 60 years. I think since the war it has consistently been the most powerful literature."

Last year's pre-award favorite, Israel's Amos Oz, is well down the ranking at 25/1 this year, and singer and poet Bob Dylan is once again on the list as an outsider, at 150-1.

Past recipients include the American Ernest Hemingway, German Thomas Mann and Colombian magical realist novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Notable omissions include France's Marcel Proust and Ireland's James Joyce. The Nobel Foundation has the right not to give out the award at all.

Wastberg said the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature would be announced either on October 7 or 14.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney in New York; writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison)

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