The 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded this morning to Herta Müller, a Romanian-born German poet and novelist, "who," stated the Swedish Academy, "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed." She will receive a 10 million kronor ($1.4 million) prize.
Müller has struggled with censorship for much of her career. Starting out in Romania under the Communist Ceausescu regime, her books came under harsh criticism from her own government, although, said the Academy,
[O]utside of Romania, the German press received them very positively. Because Mueller had publicly criticized the dictatorship in Romania, she was prohibited from publishing in her own country.
In 1987, she emigrated to Germany, where she enjoyed great success. From The Guardian:
[S]he has been the recipient of a multitude of literary awards, including Germany's most prestigious, the Kleist prize, the Frankz Kafka and the 100,000 euro Impac award for her novel The Land of Green Plums. The story of five young Romanians living under Ceausescu's dictatorship, Müller has said that she wrote it "in memory of my Romanian friends who were killed under the Ceausescu regime", and that she "felt it was my duty". The New York Times called it "a novel of graphically observed detail in which the author seeks to create a sort of poetry out of the spiritual and material ugliness of life in Communist Romania".
Most of Müller's works are published exclusively in German, but English translations exist for The Passport (1989), Traveling on One Leg (1992), The Land of Green Plums (1996), and The Appointment (2001).
Müller is one of 12 women to have ever been awarded the prize; the last female recipient was Doris Lessing in 2007.
Last year's winner was French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Each year, the prize is chosen by the Swedish Academy, which currently has 15 active members. The nomination and selection process is shrouded in secrecy; the shortlists are officially kept hidden for 50 years after the winner is chosen. The committee even goes so far as to use code names for the nominees, such as "Harry Potter" for Harold Pinter.
Despite the gravity that the Academy clearly seems to bestow upon the award, an article from Newsweek suggests that the Nobel Prize in Literature doesn't actually matter very much. While the article allows that the money is not insignificant, and that there are other benefits such as protection from a persecuting government as well a lifetime publication guarantee, it draws attention to the case of last year's winner:
...[I]f you think the prize guarantees you legions of new fans, think again. It may, and then again, you may wind up like last year's winner, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, who enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame and then fell off the radar.
For this little-known German writer, however, a little bit of fame couldn't hurt.