Jean-Paul Sartre Turned Down the Nobel Prize in Late Letter to the Nobel Committee


In 1964, existentialist author Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize — a 250,000 crown honor; he declined, becoming the first author to turn it down on principal. At the time, he said, “One cannot be asked…to renounce, for 250,000 crowns, principles which are not only one’s own, but are shared by all one’s comrades. That is what has made so painful for me both the awarding of the prize and the refusal of it I am obliged to make.” And while it may have been a noble Nobel Prize declination — his desire was for his politically “engaged” writings to speak for themselves as opposed to through an institution — it seems to have inconvenienced and likely embarrassed the committee.

Up until now, the details on Sartre’s rejection of the prize had been vague, for the Nobel committee doesn’t release the info behind their nominations for 50 years after each prize is given. The Guardian now reports that, it turns out, Sartre’s letter asking the committee not to even consider him for the award (let alone to actually bestow it upon him) arrived a month after they had already announced him as the 1964 laureate. Had they known of his tenacious disregard of such honors, they might have given it to one of the other 76 candidates (such as Mikhail Sholokhov or WH Auden who were also considered that year).