By Anna Weinberg

Book Standard, NY
Oct 13 2005

Just days after the celebration of his 75th birthday, British
playwright Harold Pinter has been awarded the 102nd Nobel Prize for
Literature. Past winners of the literature prize have included last
year's controversial pick, Elfriede Jelinek, as well as Pablo Neruda,
Albert Camus, Saul Bellow, Boris Pasternak and Jean-Paul Sartre,
who declined to accept the award in 1964.

Born in 1930, Pinter made his playwriting debut in 1957 with The
Room, a short play that he wrote in four days about a blind woman
whose room is invaded by a strange succession of characters. But he
is better known for such works as The Caretaker, The Homecoming and
The Birthday Party, the original production of which closed after
just one week, thanks to thunderously bad reviews. "Pinter restored
theatre to its basic elements," says the Swedish Academy, which every
year selects one author to receive the $1.3 million prize. "That he
occupies a position as a modern classic is illustrated by his name
entering the language as an adjective used to describe a particular
atmosphere and environment in drama: 'Pinteresque.' "

As the son of a Jewish dressmaker growing up outside of London, Pinter
has said that it was in part his experience with anti-Semitism that led
to his becoming a playwright. But Pinter also lived through the London
Blitz in WWII, though he was evacuated from his home. Upon returning
to London, he played a variety of roles in his school theater, which
led him to seek a career in acting. He was accepted into the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Art in 1948, and in 1951 obtained a place in Anew
McMaster's world-renowned repertory company. Though he had some small
success with his early plays, it was not until 1959's The Caretaker
that Pinter began to achieve fame. The Swedish Academy calls Pinter
a dramatist "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday
prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

This year's announcement of the prize was delayed a week past the
originally scheduled award date. Many have speculated that this was
due to an internal scuffle over whether to award the prize to Turkish
writer Orhan Pamuk, a popular 53-year-old writer who has recently
come under fire from his government as a result of a controversial
newspaper interview. In the interview, Pamuk asserted that Turkey was
guilty of genocide against Armenians and Kurds in the 20th century,
a charge that the country has vehemently denied. The author has been
accused of insulting Turkey's national character, and is facing a
trial this December. Though the Swedish Academy has officially denied
the allegations of a Pamuk-related argument, this would not be the
first time the secretive committee has split over politics. In 1989,
two judges resigned from the Nobel selection process when the panel
refused to honor author Salman Rushdie, then under a fatwa from the
Ayatollah Khomeini.

Pinter himself is no stranger to controversial politics. As a
conscientious objector, Pinter was fined in 1949 for refusing to
fulfill his mandatory national service. "I could have gone to prison-I
took my toothbrush to the trials," Pinter wrote in Playwrights at
Work. "But it so happened that the magistrate was slightly sympathetic,
so I was fined instead, thirty pounds in all."

More recently, Pinter has been a harsh critic of the war in Iraq. He
published a volume of anti-war poetry in 2003, and joined a group
calling for Prime Minister Tony Blair's impeachment in 2004.