Krista Schwimmer

Let Us Now Praise All Women Writers – or Not!

By Krista Schwimmer

March is designated “Women’s History Month”, a designation that began first as a week. In 1978, the “Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission On the Status of Women” started a Women’s History Week, choosing the week of March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day. The idea caught on. So, in 1981, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representation Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) cosponsored the first joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a “Women’s History Week.” Six years later, the National Women’s History Project successfully lobbied Congress to declare the entire month of March as National Women’s History Month. Every year, a Presidential Proclamation is issued to launch off this celebration.

This year the theme for Women’s History Month is “Our History is Our Strength.” I have been mulling over the fact that women still seem largely missing from mass consciousness in many walks of life. I have also been thinking a lot about prizes and awards. So, I decided to take a look at two of the most well-known and prestigious prizes – the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize – to see how women have fared in them. Being an avid reader, I was particularly drawn to literature. I decided to look at only the Nobel Prize Winners for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize Winners for “Letters, Drama and Music.”

The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded 103 times to 106 Nobel Laureates, beginning in 1901. Only 12 of these recipients have been women. With the Pulitzer Prize, I looked at the 8 categories under “Letters, Drama and Music” which were: Biography or Autobiography; Drama; Fiction; General Non-Fiction; History; Music; Novel; and Poetry. According to my calculations, the totals for men and women under the category of “Letters, Drama, and Music,” were 389 individual men and 92 individual women. There were eight shared awards given to groups of men; two others shared by a man and a woman.

Well, one could argue, what does a prize matter anyway? There were many men on the Nobel Prize Literary list, (such as Jacinto Benavente, 1922 winner for his contributions to Spanish drama) that I have never heard of, let alone read. I cannot say literary prizes affect me much. They are far too subjective to amount to anything. In the United States, however, a country where people participate in ridiculous television reality shows for money and notoriety, I believe it matters. If nothing else, a well known prize such as the Pulitzer or Nobel, gives a writer a chance to get his or her work out to the world over a longer period of time. It doesn’t hurt either that a Pulitzer prize winner receives $10,000; and in 2010, the Nobel Prize winner, a fat $1.5 million.

Women fared better in certain categories more than others. For instance, combining the Novel and the Fiction Category (which replaced the Novel Category in 1948), 27 women and 57 men received awards. Interestingly, in the History Category, men received 85 Pulitzers and women, only 7. (Hmmm – could this be why women have been written out of history at times?) Similarly, under Biography and Autobiography, the voices of men over women were heard 82 to 12.

If prizes such as the Pulitzer and the Nobel reflect a deeper attitude towards those we value, then we still have a long way to go when it comes to re-cognizing the written words of women. So this month, make it a month of reading the works of women from all walks of life. Read them to yourself in the bath; read them out loud to your lover and friends. And when you find a treasure, pass it on to those you love. After all, it is not a prize that makes a work great; it is the way the work resounds within you.

The 12 Women Nobel Laureates for Literature:

  • 1909 Selma Ottilia Louis Lagerlof
  • 1926 Grazia Delede
  • 1928 Sigrid Undset
  • 1938 Pearl Buck
  • 1945 Gabriela Mistral
  • 1966 Nelly Sachs (shared with Shmuel Yosel Agnon)
  • 1991 Nadine Gordime
  • 1993 Toni Morrison
  • 1996 Wislawa Szymborska
  • 2004 Elfrieda Jelinck
  • 2007 Doris Lessing
  • 2009 Herta Mull

How Women Fared In All the Nobel Prize Categories (including the Prize in Economic Sciences) From 1901 to 2010:

These prizes were awarded 534 times to 840 people and organizations. A total of 813 individuals received prizes; 20 organizations. Nobel Prizes were awarded to only 41 WOMEN IN TOTAL, with Marie Curie receiving it twice.

(Note: All prize statistics obtained at and

Categories: Krista Schwimmer, Women

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