Playwright Pinter wins Nobel literature prize
By Stephen Brown
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – British playwright Harold Pinter, a
master of sparse dialogue and menacing silences who has been an
outspoken critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, was the surprise
winner of the Nobel literature prize on Thursday.
The 75-year-old Londoner, son of a Jewish dressmaker, is
one of Britain’s best-known dramatists for plays like “The
Birthday Party” and “The Caretaker,” whose mundane dialogue
with sinister undercurrents gave rise to the adjective
An intimidating presence with bushy eyebrows and a rich
voice, he was described by Swedish Academy head Horace Engdahl,
who announced the prize, as “the towering figure” in English
drama in the second half of the 20th century.
Pinter told Reuters Television he was “overwhelmed” by the
news: “I haven’t had time to think about it but I am very, very
moved. It was something I did not expect at all at any time.”
Asked why he had won, Pinter mused: “I wonder, I wonder.”
Critics called him an unexpected but deserving choice for
the 10 million crown prize — the second Nobel this month with
an anti-U.S. flavor, after the Peace Prize for the U.N. nuclear
watchdog which is criticized by Washington.
An active human rights campaigner, Pinter has likened U.S.
President George W. Bush’s administration to the Nazis and
called British Prime Minister Tony Blair a “mass murderer” for
The world of theater hailed the new Nobel laureate.
“It’s wholly deserved and I am completely thrilled. As a
writer he has been unswerving for 50 years,” said Tom Stoppard,
another of Britain’s greatest post-war dramatists. Playwright
Alan Ayckbourn called it “a most fitting award.”
“This is a writer of the highest integrity. I think the
Nobel committee got it right,” Michael Colgan, director of the
celebrated Gate Theater in Dublin which is currently staging a
celebration of Pinter plays and readings, told Reuters.
Pinter was not always so popular. “The Birthday Party”
played for just six days in its inaugural run in London in 1958
and had an audience of only half a dozen people in one matinee.
But he soon overcame what Stoppard called “the bewilderment
and incomprehension of critics and audience.”
His second play, “The Caretaker,” was acclaimed two years
later and went to Broadway. He has gained a reputation as an
actor, director and screenwriter, with film credits like “The
French Lieutenant’s Woman” in 1981, based on John Fowles’
Always outspoken on politics and human rights, Pinter was
described by one biographer as “a permanent public nuisance, a
questioner of accepted truths, both in life and art.”
In 2003 he wrote a poem on the U.S. invasion of Iraq
saying: “Here they go again,/The Yanks in their armored
“Harold Pinter has positions about the Western world that
are extremely pronounced. In 2003 he was very openly opposed to
the war in Iraq,” French literary critic Raphaelle Rerolle of
Le Monde newspaper told Reuters.
“His plays have an indirect political content as well,”
said Rerolle, who believes the choice of Nobel laureates is
becoming “more radical.” Last year’s winner Elfriede Jelinek of
Austria is a hard-line left-winger and feminist.
Pinter’s agent Judy Daish told Reuters it was “the most
wonderful news. It is a complete surprise and I feel it is
richly deserved. I was overjoyed for him.”
(Additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm,
Caroline Brothers in Paris, Paul Majendie in London and Jodie
Ginsberg in Dublin)