Betting on culture

Because the Swedish Academy is expert in destroying forecasts and favorites, betting on the winner of the Literature Nobel Prize has become a routine, even in the world of gambling, where there are more and more sites to put your money on. Spoiler alert: the author will go again for Haruki Murakami. Let’s cross our fingers.

Politics has always invaded the choice of this award. The best were not always the winners.
Politics has always invaded the choice of this award. The best were not always the winners.

By H. B. Ducasse, analyst.

I have been betting on Haruki Murakami for ten years. I cheated on him once with Joyce Carol Oates. It didn’t work out. So, in this pandemic year, I’m not going to get so much involved and anxious. I’ll just check from the outside, like everyone else, indeed, since the Nobel Prize for Literature ceremony will be online. Still, it generates debate, frenzy betting and maybe some scandal. Debates are eternal, scandals are incidental, but results are a fact. The winner (he or she?) will be known on Thursday, October 8th. There will also be winners or losers in terms of betting too.


In British bookmakers webpages (you can try, for instance, the following site:, Maryse Conde, a Caribbean, French and feminist writer who has not been a strong candidate until now, is at the top of the list. Those who follow surely are more familiar to these kinds of lists: Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Anne Carson and Javier Marias, all famous writers. In other lists, they even include Argentinean Cesar Aira.

Since 1901, the year in which the most outstanding work in the world of letters is recognized, the Academy has awarded few Latin Americans. Chileans Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971), Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala, 1967), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia, 1982), Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1990) and Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru, 2010). The average is one LatAm writer every 20 years. In addition, 80 percent of the winners U.S. or European narrators and only 15 women have earned the Nobel in this category. Think about it, bettors.

Of course, rumors are up to the stakes. People search for leaks, data and errors from the Academy, like the one in 2018. In literary magazines, publishing houses and, now, in Twitter and Facebook groups, there are lots of bets. No offense, but Literature Novel Prizes’ winners are usually more surprising than the rest of the Nobels (Peace category can also be a shocker).

Haruki Murakami and Joyce Carol Oates.


On the last year, in an award ceremony that intent to make people forget about 2018 scandals (complaints of sexual harassment, mass resignations of its members), Austrian Peter Handke was ranked in the 20th position by British bookmakers. However, he was the winner… If we believe in magic numbers, this year, that 20th place is for Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga. Would you bet on her? As crazy as it seems, behind her are famous writers such as Michel Houellebecq, Milan Kundera and Stephen King. It is well known that best sellers don’t go well with the taste of the Swedish Academy. Does Murakami fit on that list? If Bob Dylan won the statuette when odds were 50 to 1 against him, anything can happen. If not, just check how many of the historical winners’ names do you know. Half of them?

As with any famous prize, which also awards US$1.1 million to the winner, there are political, geographic, social issues to deal with. Bookmakers are aware of them. For example, Ladbrokes usually digs into specialized blogs, social networks and literary publications. From the many events that include some bets out of the ordinary, like the Oscars or the U.S. presidential elections, the Literature Nobel Prize is one of the most difficult to decipher. Therefore, the fact that the American Joyce Carol Oates (my second eternal candidate) won the Cino del Duca in last May, considered by some as the prelude to the Nobel, does not mean so much.


Before deciding your final bet, you should consider those who take risks based on the mix between ideology and statistics. Among the statisticians, there are those who maintain that this time the prize would go for an African writer. They already mention Thiong’o, the Somali Nuruddin Farah and the Nigerian poet and novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who would be a boom if winning at 43 after her famous title: We should all be feminists. Far away, Leonardo Padura (Cuba) and Rafael Cadenas (Venezuela) appear in political terms, as opponents of current Governments in those countries

Of course, this whole process leads us to ask ourselves different questions. How much does literature matter? What are the prizes for, and who are they for? What factors come into action in an election? These are all issues a good gambler should reflect on, and this includes the question of causality and chance, which is still valid. Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), a great writer who was shamefully censured by the Nobel Prize, used to say that what we call ‘chance’ is our ignorance of the complex machinery of causality; although, he has also suggested the opposite. Chance and causality may intersect. Hopefully, it is my wish –again- that they will meet to choose Murakami or, at least, Oates.