Skip to main content

After the Nobel, Then What?


PUBLISHED: October 19, 2009

The story may be apocryphal, but it is entertaining nevertheless: At the end of class one week towards the beginning of the semester, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott tells his MFA workshop at Boston University that, unfortunately, he will not be able to attend class next week. “There are certain responsibilities,” he informs the class, “that come with being a Nobel Laureate.” The students nod, imagining an ultra-exclusive confab of geniuses, a super-Davos on a secret island in the Indian Ocean. As he expounds on his regret, one of the students in the class leans over and happens to glance at Walcott’s planner, which is open on the desk in front of him. Written in block letters across nearly half the page are the words SAINT LUCIA, the Caribbean island where Walcott grew up and the real reason for his absence.

Whether or not the story is true, it gets at a question that has been bugging me for the past few weeks. What do you do after you win the Nobel prize? Sure, you spend a few months resting on your laurels. You go to Stockholm, you collect your prize, you give your speech, but then what? What happens when the ceremonies subside and the congratulatory telegrams trickle away to nothing? Surely, there are some laureates who can make a career from speaking engagements and consulting. And there are some laureates who have at least a few more years of running the free world ahead of them. But for those workaday laureates, for those laureates who have to go back to the office or the lab or the classroom, does the Nobel really change anything? To answer this question, I have complied a few links to articles written by former Nobel prize winners reflecting on how the prize changed their lives.

7 Comments

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
John's picture
John · 9 years ago
If Walcott went to Oslo to get his prize, that may explain why he wants the week off. Perhaps to go to Stockholm to get the prize.
+1
+26
-1
Waldo Jaquith's picture
*Laugh* Well played, John. :) I should have caught such a glaring error in editing, but I did not. “Oslo” now reads “Stockholm,” as of course it should have in the first place.
+1
-15
-1
Waldo Jaquith's picture
I was really surprised to learn about that dichotomy today. I’d always thought that the affair was monolithic, but after I corrected this and spent a bit reading about it, I can appreciate that it’s a bit confusing.
+1
-77
-1
Jacob Silverman's picture
It is confusing. The Nobel in economics – which has a more cumbersome name – wasn’t started until 1968. It’s awarded in Sweden but by a bank, not the Swedish Academy. As for the Peace prize, I think I read recently that it’s awarded in Oslo because at the time that Alfred Nobel endowed the original awards, Sweden and Norway were in some kind of (federal?) union.
+1
+12
-1
Jacob Silverman's picture
Oops – I just read that while the economics prize is endowed by a Swedish bank, it’s still selected by the Academy.
+1
-20
-1
Finn Harvor's picture
“As for the Peace prize, I think I read recently that it’s awarded in Oslo because at the time that Alfred Nobel endowed the original awards, Sweden and Norway were in some kind of (federal?) union.” Though I don’t know what prompted Nobel to locate the Nobel building in Oslo, it is true that the two countries were “unified” at that point, though I suspect many Norwegians would consider this union a rather one-sided affair. Sweden was a regional hegemon for many centuries. This was true of its relationship with Finland as well (I’m not sure how Denmark fit in the equation). In any case, as far as I know the union was not a meeting of equals, but something a little more tilted than that.
+1
-80
-1

Recommended Reading