Also-rans and should-have-wons

When the Italian playwright Dario Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1997, Andrew Gumbel wrote:

Italy has not won the Nobel Prize since 1975, when the laureate was the undisputed master of 20th-century poetry, Eugenio Montale. In recent years, the literati have been pinning their hopes on the Florentine poet Mario Luzi – one of those also-rans who, like Mario Vargas Llosa, Doris Lessing and VS Naipaul, seems condemned to be mentioned every year but never actually to win.

Mario Luzi died in 2005, aged 90, without a Nobel. However, the other three authors lived to win their prizes: Naipaul in 2001, Lessing in 2007, and Vargas Llosa in 2010. Back in 1997, it was Haruki Murakami who was shaping up for the role of the eternal favorite.

Gumbel reports Luzi’s reaction to the Nobel prize going to Fo:

Yesterday, Luzi was in a uniquely foul mood. “I’ll say only this,” he told one Italian reporter before slamming the phone down, “I’ve just about had it up to here!” He sounds like one of those crazed characters you’d find in a Dario Fo play.

Interviewed by AdnKronos, Luzi expressed his discontent less passionately (all translations are mine):

Obviously I’m less lucky than he is. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, I’m getting over this… While the validity of the Nobel prize speaks for itself, the meaning of this latest choice is obvious. It’s all so absurd that the background of the prize, its workings, the ultimate decisions escape my understanding completely. I used to be a spectator, more or less aware, more or less participating… But now I’m done with it – I won’t be drawn into this anymore.

Luzi claimed zero interest in Fo’s work, unsurprisingly:

I didn’t even know that he had been writing, didn’t know that he, too, was literature [avesse una propria letteratura]. He is certainly a well-known author, both in Europe and in America, and now he can also enjoy a remuneration, his legitimate reward. Fo isn’t stealing anything, but it must be said that others are less lucky.

When Luzi died in February 2005, The Independent ran an obituary by the English poet and translator James Kirkup subtitled “Poet who should have won the Nobel Prize.”

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