American writer Philip Roth and Israel's Amos Oz were favorites for the Nobel Prize in literature ahead of Thursday's much-hyped announcement by the Swedish Academy.
If Roth wins he would be the first American since Toni Morrison in 1993 to capture what many consider the world's highest accolade for writers. His name has figured prominently among the whispers of Sweden's literary establishment for years despite being passed over in favor others like Britain's Harold Pinter and South Africa's J.M. Coetzee and the 2006 winner, Turkey's Orhan Pamuk.
Swedish Academy permanent secretary Horace Engdahl, who every year emerges through the wooden doors at the academy's home to a room packed with reporters, cameras and literary groupies to announce the winner, dismissed any notion of an anti-American bias in the 18-member academy.
"Perhaps Americans have been few and far between in recent years, after Toni Morrison. But there is no particular purpose in this," Engdahl said Thursday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
"The prize always concerns an individual, not a nation, and we have no principle of distribution when we decide. That would violate the will of (prize founder Alfred) Nobel."
The secretive academy often picks obscure writers, making it near-impossible to predict a winner. Last year was an exception. Pamuk was the top choice of many Nobel watchers and betting sites, a rare occurrence.
This year, British bookmaker Ladbrokes gave Roth the shortest odds, ahead of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Oz. The Israeli was tied with French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio as the No. 1 pick at the betting site iBetips.com.
"We see the betting odds as a mere curiosity," Engdahl said. "Most years Ladbrokes' assessment does not correspond with that of the academy, and if they at some occasion happen to coincide, it is pure luck."
Perennial favorites for the prize include Syrian poet and essayist Adonis, the pseudonym for Ali Ahmad Said Asbar; Sweden's Thomas Transtromer and Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. American Joyce Carol Oates would likely be a strong candidate if the committee decides on a woman, which it has done only three times in the past 15 years, most recently in 2004 when Austrian Elfriede Jelinek won the prize and its accompanying 10 million kronor (US$1.5 million; EUR1.1 million) check.
Whoever has their name read aloud by Engdahl on Thursday will undoubtedly be catapulted onto the global stage and is guaranteed to see a rise in sales and out-of-print works returned into circulation.
Besides the check, the winner will also receive a gold medal and be invited to give a lecture at the academy's headquarters in the Swedish capital's centuries-old Gamla Stan, or Old Town.
The Nobel Prize in literature is handed out in Stockholm on Dec. 10 - the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896 - along with the awards in medicine, chemistry, physics and economics. The Nobel Peace Prize is presented in Oslo, Norway, in accordance with Nobel's will.