UT Professor Nominated Nobel Winner

Published: Oct 13, 2005

The announcement today that British playwright Harold Pinter was named winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy had an immediate positive impact on The University of Tampa as a liberal arts-based institution.

Dr. Frank Gillen, the University’s Dana professor of English and founding editor of the Pinter Review, is among the people who nominated Pinter. The University of Tampa Press has been publishing the Pinter Review since its inception in 1987.

“It’s a very happy day,” Gillen said with a joyful laugh. “I feel like my faith and the University’s faith in Pinter have been acknowledged.

“Even in the dark days when there wasn’t much interest in his work, we published faithfully, and the University supported us. I’ll always be very grateful for that. There is no other university in the world that publishes a journal devoted specifically to the works of Harold Pinter.”

Gillen also founded the Pinter Society with Dr. Steven Gale of Kentucky State University. Gale is co-editor of The Pinter Review, a twice-yearly journal representing the latest thinking about Pinter’s work. It is the official publication authorized by Pinter.

Gillen, who meets with Pinter often and has corresponded with the playwright for many years, said he was invited by the Academy three years ago to write a nomination for Pinter. It was his second letter nominating him. The first, written in 1997, said the playwright “is concerned with the transformation of the human spirit” and “has stood against the misuse of authority and called attention to social and political injustice.”

“Harold Pinter is generally seen as the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century,” the Academy said in Thursday’s announcement. “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.’”

The academy also praised Pinter's continuing analysis of “threat and injustice” and his work, since 1973, “as a fighter for human rights,” taking “stands seen as controversial.” For instance, he has emerged as one of the leading British voices against the American- and British-led invasion of Iraq.

Pinter, who turned 75 on Oct. 10, made his debut as a playwright in 1957 with The Room. Another early play was The Birthday Party (1957). His breakthrough came with The Caretaker in 1959, followed by The Homecoming in 1964.

In addition to writing for the stage, Pinter also has penned plays for radio and screenplays for film and television.

Among Pinter’s best-known screenplays are those for The Servant (1963), The Accident (1967), The Go-Between (1971), and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), based on the novel by John Fowles, which starred Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.

Born the son of a Jewish dressmaker in the north London borough of Hackney, Pinter has said that the anti-Semitism he encountered as a child was formative in his decision to become a playwright.

The prolific Pinter was credited by the Academy with restoring theater to its basic elements: “an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other, and pretence crumbles.”

Initially, Pinter’s work was described as a variation of absurd theater, but since is regarded as “a comedy of menace,” the Academy said.

The announcement came as a surprise to many Thursday, as Pinter had not been mentioned in the run up to the jury’s decision. The last British winner of the prize was Trinidad-born V. S. Naipaul in 2001. Last year’s award to another dramatist, Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, also was a surprise, and the Italian dramatist Dario Fo received the prize in 1997.

Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel described Pinter’s award as “absolutely deserved.”

“You don't really know how happy I am,” Havel wrote in a congratulatory telegram to his friend Pinter.

The announcement of the literature laureate capped this year’s announcements of the awards created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. Each Nobel Prize this year is worth 10 million kronor (1.3 million dollars). The medicine, physics, chemistry, peace and economics prize-winners were announced last week and on Monday.

The prize ceremonies are held on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

NOTE: Portions of articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Expatica were used in this report.

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