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  Nobel in Literature Due Thursday

By Susanna Loof
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Sept. 29, 1999; 11:50 a.m. EDT

STOCKHOLM, Sweden –– This year's Nobel Prize in literature will be announced Thursday, weeks earlier than most years, and only the Swedish Academy knows which world author will be crowned.

Americans John Updike, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, and Joyce Carol Oates as well as Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru, Mexico's Carlos Fuentes, Guenter Grass of Germany and Belgian Hugo Claus, have all been mentioned as possible winners.

The academy revealed the announcement date on Tuesday. Custom dictates that the prize date be announced just days in advance. In a break from tradition, the newest Nobel laureate will be named on the last day of September. Usually, the literature award is announced on a Thursday in October.

Some are looking to the slightly earlier-than-usual announcement as a possible clue to the recipient.

"It can mean that it was an easy choice, in which case it's a storyteller," said Thomas Steinfeld of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's literary section. "And after all the Europeans the past years, I think it will be an American."

Steinfeld said he's rooting for Updike, whose four books about ex-basketball player Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom chronicle American life of the past half-century.

New York author Cynthia Ozick, who as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters has the right to suggest recipients, said either Pynchon or Roth would be a worthy recipient.

"They are astonishments of the kind that don't come in every generation," she said.

Then there's Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize winner who lived under a death threat after his book "The Satanic Verses" was accused of blaspheming Islam. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa, or religious edict, on Rushdie in 1989. The threat is now at least partly lifted.

"The Swedish Academy has something to repair there," Steinfeld said.

Secrecy has surrounded this year's selection, just as it has since the academy began making its choices in 1901. The awards are funded by a trust set up in the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.

The academy, founded in 1786, has 18 members, though one chair is vacant and three members don't participate. Academy members, former recipients and a select group of literature and language professors and specialists in the field may suggest candidates.

Nobel Prize winners receive their prizes, this year worth $960,000, on Dec. 10.

Jose Saramago of Portugal won last year's Nobel Prize in literature.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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