The Saga of Gösta Berling
The first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature—in 1909, eight years after the award’s inception—Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf was honored for her “lofty idealism, vivid imagination, and spiritual perception.”
Reeds in the Wind
Seventeen years passed before a second woman won the Nobel Prize in Literature: Italian author Grazia Deledda, in 1926. Her novels often focus on the connection between residents and the environment of her native Sardinia.
In addition to receiving the 1928 Nobel, Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset—whose trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter chronicles one woman’s life during the Middle Ages—has had her face on Scandinavian currency and stamps and even has a crater on Venus named after her.
The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
An American who lived most of her early life in China, Pearl S. Buck won the Nobel in 1938—six years after winning the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Good Earth.
Madwomen: The “Locas mujeres” Poems of Gabriela…
Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral’s 1945 Nobel win made her the first Latin American writer—and still the only Latin American female—to take the prize.
Collected Poems I: (1944-1949)
In 1966, German poet and playwright Nelly Sachs shared the Nobel with Hebrew author Shmuel Yosef Agnon—one of four times the award has been split.
South African author Nadine Gordimer’s nearly forty novels and story collections deal primarily with apartheid. As a result, many were banned by the country’s government. She won the Nobel in 1991 .
Toni Morrison’s 1993 win is the last time an American claimed the Nobel. In her acceptance speech, she decried the abuse of language and its use as a tool of oppression: “Word-work . . . makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference—the way in which we are like no other life.”
Polish poet and essayist Wislawa Symborska won the 1996 Nobel for “ironic precision [that] allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.”
The Piano Teacher
Controversial for her political outspokenness and her work’s typically sexual subject matter—the 2001 film version of her novel The Piano Teacher was unrated due its graphic depiction of self-mutilation—Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel in 2004.
The Golden Notebook
British author Doris Lessing was 88 when she won the Nobel in 2007, making her the oldest ever recipient. Her acceptance speech was fittingly cantankerous: “[W]e never thought to ask, How will our lives, our way of thinking be changed by this Internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging, etc.”
The Hunger Angel
The child of farmers, Romanian-born German author Herta Müller won the Nobel in 2009 for her “courage in uncompromisingly repudiating provincial repression and political terror.” Her work deals almost exclusively with Romanian life under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.