03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

STOCKHOLM — Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth join Israel's Amos Oz at the top of the buzz surrounding the Nobel Prize in literature, especially after the most prominent judge broke from his predecessor and said U.S. writers are worthy of the coveted award.

True to tradition, the secretive Swedish Academy won't even reveal who has been nominated ahead of the announcement Thursday.

To avoid leaks academy members avoid discussing candidates in e-mails or in public. When they must – such as when they dine out together – they use quirky code names, like "Chateaubriand" for last year's winner, Jean-Marie Le Clezio of France.

Britons Doris Lessing and Harold Pinter, winners in 2007 and 2005, were "Little Dorrit" and "Harry Potter," while Orhan Pamuk – the 2006 winner – was simply dubbed "OP," initials that Swedes associate with a domestic brand of liquor.

"It's sometimes when we meet in public spaces and public environments and then we have to resort to code words but it isn't that frequent," Peter Englund, the academy's permanent secretary, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Academy members have also been known to use fake covers to camouflage their books whenever reading in public.

Sometimes even those feints aren't enough. The academy suspected a leak last year when Le Clezio surged to No. 1 in Nobel betting a day before the announcement.

"We have taken a number of measures to see that it isn't repeated this year," said Englund, who used to work in military intelligence. He declined to describe the measures.

This year British betting firm Ladbrokes is giving the lowest odds to Oz, German writer Herta Mueller and a trio of Americans: Oates, Roth and Thomas Pynchon.

The academy keeps nominations secret for 50 years but nominators – language professors, former Nobel laureates and members of literature academies worldwide – sometimes make their submissions public.

This year, Danish literature professor Anne-Marie Mai revealed she had nominated Bob Dylan because she was upset about Englund's predecessor's critical remarks about American literature.

Before last year's prize announcement, outgoing permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said the U.S. was too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world.

Englund struck a different tone, telling AP Tuesday 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."

On Thursday Englund will announce the winner at the academy's headquarters in Stockholm's Old Town.

The last American winner was Toni Morrison in 1993. No writer from South America has won since Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982. The last North American writer was Canadian Saul Bellow, who won in 1976 and was a resident of the United States for much of his life.

Dylan is believed to have been nominated several times before, but doesn't quite fit the profile of a Nobel literature laureate. Besides primarily being a songwriter, his mass following could also be considered a minus by the Swedish Academy, which often chooses writers who are unfamiliar to the everyday reader.

However, Dylan is considered by many prominent literary critics to be a major poet, his song lyrics worthy of serious study.

Dylan's literary merits aside, Nobel watchers note that anyone can be nominated for the six Nobel awards in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics, but that doesn't mean they have any chance of winning.

The list of unsuccessful peace prize nominees includes dictators Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

"There are some completely crazy nominations," said Mans Ehrenberg, who sits on the chemistry prize committee. He said occasionally committee members get e-mails "from people who think they should get the prize."

That violates a key Nobel rule: you can't nominate yourself. New Zealand literature professor J.M. Brown tried to get around that rule in 1905, when he nominated Godfrey Sweven, which turned out to be his own pseudonym.

British wartime leader Winston Churchill missed out on the peace prize despite two nominations, but his oratory and his works of historical scholarship earned him the literature prize in 1953.

Spanish poet Angel Guimera y Jorge was nominated for the literature prize 17 consecutive years, but never won.

The Swedish Academy receives hundreds of literature nominations every year, whittled down to a shortlist of five names by May. Those authors are studied carefully before a winner is selected in a majority vote.

Known in Swedish as "De Aderton" – the Eighteen – the academy members are Swedish writers, book critics, linguists and literature professors.

Right now there are only 15 active members. One seat is vacant and two members have boycotted meetings since the 1990s because of internal disputes, including over whether the academy should condemn death threats against British writer Salman Rushdie.

Englund said there usually is animated discussion between academy members before the vote, though they try to keep things civil.

"There are never sort of cutthroat debates and people getting really angry and storming out of the room," he said.


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