Centres of gravity

The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to Herta Müller

This year's Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the Romanian-born writer Herta Müller. (Müller has lived in Germany since 1987 and writes in German.) According to the judges, Müller, "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed".

Ahead of the award, one member of the jury, Peter Englund, had wondered if the prize had become too "Eurocentric" and said that "in most language areas . . . there are authors that really deserve and could get the Nobel Prize and that goes for the United States and the Americas, as well".

This was in marked contrast to the remarks last year of the prize's permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, who appeared to argue that one of the functions of the Nobel was to ensure that the centre of gravity of the literary world remained in Europe. "There is powerful literature in all big cultures," Engdahl said. "But you can't get away from the fact that Europe is still the centre of the literary world . . . not the United States. The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature . . . That ignorance is restraining." (I wrote a piece about Engdahl, the Nobel and the growing dominance of the literary "Anglosphere" for the NS last year.)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Poem: "When the Americans came"

“Do you have vampires around here?”

When the Americans came,

they didn’t take to our gardens:

the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,

foxgloves growing among the runner beans.


“Do you have vampires around here?”

a visitor from Carolina asked me.

It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,

nodding wisely as though apologising


for the ill manners of King George,

the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.

But come the softe sonne,

there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,


forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,

lettuce and spring onions for a salad.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat*


I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,

and didn’t care to listen to a boy.

They preferred the red rosehips

we used for making wine.


Danced outside the village church

round the maypole Jack Parnham made.

Now they’re gone,

the wild garlic has returned.


* W B Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”


William Bedford is a novelist, children’s author and poet. His eighth collection of verse, The Bread Horse, is published by Red Squirrel Press.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood