A quick guide to the previous eight winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, which has been given out since 1901.
DORIS LESSING, 2007 WINNER
Who: Novel and short story stalwart who has been one of Britain's most important writers during her 57-year career. Her work has encompassed everything from feminism, communism and colonialism to science fiction, thrillers and cats. At 88, she is the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Doris Lessing is a three-time Booker Prize nominee
The judges on Lessing: An "epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".
Lessing on Nobel: "It's about 40 years since they sent one of their minions especially to tell me they didn't like me at the Nobel Prize and I would never get it. I've never asked for it, you see, so this struck me as very bad manners. So now they've decided they're going to give it to me... do they like me any better?"
ORHAN PAMUK, 2006 WINNER
Who: Turkish author whose works, which include Snow and My Name Is Red, typically deal with clashes between civilisations and Islam's relationship with secular nationalism. In 2005, he was subject to a high-profile trial for insulting Turkish identity after discussing the deaths of Kurds and Armenians in Turkey. The charges were dropped.
Orhan Pamuk has been famous in his native Turkey for decades
The judges on Pamuk: "In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
Pamuk on Nobel: "I am very happy and honoured. I am very satisfied. I will try to recover from this shock. This will lead the world to review Turkish culture as a culture of peace."
HAROLD PINTER, 2005 WINNER
Who: The controversial British playwright and campaigner, 76, has been writing plays for about 50 years. He is known for speaking out on issues like the war on Iraq. He is widely regarded as the UK's greatest living playwright.
The playwright was diagnosed with cancer in 2002
The judges on Pinter:"[Pinter] who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."
Pinter on Nobel: "I am both deeply engaged in art and deeply engaged in politics and sometimes those two meet and sometimes they don't. It's all going to be very interesting. I'm delighted at the news."
ELFRIEDE JELINEK, 2004 WINNER
Who: Austrian novelist and playwright is best known for her novel The Piano Teacher, which was made into a film by Michael Haneke in 2001. Jelinek, 59, was only the 10th woman to win the award.
Jelinek was the first Austrian writer to be honoured with the Nobel prize
The judges on Jelinek: "For her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's cliches and their subjugating power."
Jelinek on Nobel: "Surprising and a great honour. It is the biggest honour."
JM COETZEE, 2003 WINNER
Who: The South African writer is a solitary figure, who rarely communicates with the media and prefers doing so by e-mail. The 66-year-old has won the Booker Prize twice and has also won scooped the 2000 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Disgrace.
He was the second South African to be awarded the Prize
The judges on Coetzee: "[Coetzee] who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."
IMRE KERTESZ, 2002 WINNER
Who: He is best known for works which draw from his experiences as a teenager in Nazi concentration camps. He has said himself, "When I am thinking about a new novel, I always think of Auschwitz."
He wrote about the Holocaust because it had "no language"
The Hungarian, who is of Jewish descent, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. He was liberated in 1945 and started working for a Budapest newspaper before becoming a translator for German authors.
The judges on Kertesz: "For writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
Kertesz on Nobel: "My immediate reaction is one of great joy. It means very much to me. There is no awareness of the Holocaust in Hungary. People have not faced up to the Holocaust. I hope that in the light of this recognition, they will face up to it more than until now."
VS NAIPAUL, 2001 WINNER
Who: A leading novelist of the English-speaking Caribbean, Naipaul, 74, writes about the cultural confusion of the Third World. He often draws on his own experiences too, such as feeling as an outsider, being an Indian in the West Indies, and a West Indian in England.
Naipaul has been based in England since the 1950s
The judges on Naipaul: "For having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."
Naipaul on Nobel: "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."
GAO XINGJIAN, 2000 WINNER
Who: Gao is the first Chinese writer to be awarded the prize. He is a political refugee and playwright whose works have not been performed in China since his play The Other Shore was banned in 1986. He left China in 1987 as a political refugee and has settled in the Paris suburb of Bagnolet.
Xingjian paints and provides the cover illustrations for his own books
The judges on Gao: "For an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama."
Gao on Nobel: He said he was "surprised and honoured by the distinction" but would not use his new-found name as a political forum to denounce China.