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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Naipaul wins Nobel literature prize
VS Naipaul
VS Naipaul: Novelist and short story writer
Trinidad-born UK author VS Naipaul has won the Nobel Prize for literature for works that "compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories".

In a statement, Naipaul said: "I am utterly delighted, this is an unexpected accolade.

"It is a great tribute to England, my home, and to India, home of my ancestors and to the dedication and support of my agent Gillon Aitken."

The Swedish Academy - which decides the winner - briefly discussed suspending the prize due to the US strikes on Afghanistan.

But the 215-year-old academy decided it was appropriate to rise above current events, and present the award, in its 100th anniversary year.

Swedish Academy secretary Engdahl
Horace Engdahl: "Literature is the basis of a worldwide community"
Previous Nobel literature winner Derek Walcott said he was pleased with the decision to honour Naipaul.

He told BBC Radio 4's Front Row arts programme: "I'm very, very pleased. It's long overdue, even if he's written some very harsh things about the Caribbean.

"I think his judgment of Trinidad is erratic and strange, and often vicious in some cases.

"But he is a Trinidadian, he grew up there and he's a West Indian, though he may want to deny it."

Naipaul, 69, was born in Trinidad to parents of Indian descent.

Nadine Gordimer
South African Nadine Gordimer won in 1991
A novelist and short story writer, he left there at the age of 18 for Oxford University and then travels around the globe.

The academy described him as a "literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice".

It added he was "singularly unaffected by literary fashion and models", and has "wrought existing genres into a style of his own".

He has been based in England since the 1950s, and much of his writing explores the traumas of post-colonial change.


Naipaul - who writes in English - is also famous for writing A House For Mr Biswas and A Bend In The River.

A man who values his privacy, he was reluctant to answer the phone when he was contacted to let him know of his good fortune, according to head of the academy Horace Engdahl.

The 98th Nobel literature laureate eventually took the call after his wife, Nadia Khannum Alvi, repeatedly called him to get him to the phone.

Mr Engdahl said: "He was very surprised and I don't think he was pretending. He was surprised because he feels that as a writer he doesn't represent anything but himself."


Naipaul was one of the first winners of the Booker Prize, now Britain's leading literary award, in 1971 for In A Free State, and has been rumoured to be among the favourites for the Nobel Prize for several years.

Literature is one of the five prize areas mentioned in Alfred Nobel's will, which gives vague guidance as to who should win the $943,000 (£654,100) prize.

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney also won the Whitbread for Beowulf
The inventor of dynamite merely said he wanted an award granted to "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction".

Some of the greatest names in literature - Tolstoy, Proust, Hardy, Chekhov, Ibsen, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Kafka, Brecht, to name just some - have missed out on the prize.

Some critics say that winners can often reflect a political message.

Last year's winner was exiled Chinese novelist and playwright Gao Xingjian - an award denounced by the Chinese government as political.

Irish poet Seamus Heaney - born in the North of Ireland, resident in the South - won in 1995 when the Anglo-Irish peace process was at a pivotal point.

Other laureates with a strong political voice include The Tin Drum author GŁnter Grass and Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo.

The prizes will be awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10 - the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death.

The BBC's Jo Episcopo
"Naipaul's writings examine the trauma of post colonial change"
Farouk Dhondy, writer for the Literary Review
"He fought against all odds"
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Reviews
The return of Naipaul
12 Oct 00 | Europe
Chinese writer wins Nobel prize
12 Oct 01 | Arts
Praise for Naipaul's Nobel
12 Oct 00 | World
Profile: Gao Xingjian
11 Oct 01 | Arts
Naipaul: A singular talent
08 Oct 01 | Health
British scientists scoop Nobel
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