More than likely, you’re familiar with the Nobel Prize. It’s an annual award that is bestowed to a recipient who has demonstrated a major achievement within his or her field. Six categories receive awards every year: chemistry, physics, medicine, peace, literature, and economic sciences. Some recipients like Marie Curie and Albert Einstein — who each won the Nobel Prize in physics in different years — and former President Barack Obama (Nobel Peace Prize, 2009) are well known. But there are a few who might surprise you.
Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016
Bob Dylan is considered one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century and the voice of the Baby Boomer generation. Most notably, he wrote a variety of politically focused songs during the 1960s and 1970s that addressed the nation’s anti-Vietnam War sentiments and the inherent dysfunction at home.
His musical style is unique, as he rose to mainstream fame while relying on classic American folk stylings with his delivery and wordplay. Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Nobel Peace Prize, 2012
Did you know that organizations could win a Nobel Prize? The Peace category is the only Nobel Prize division for which organizations have been awarded, as the other five are bestowed only to individuals. In 2012, the European Union (EU) received the Nobel Peace Prize “for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."
The EU was founded in 1952 when Germany and France joined forces to create a coalition that was originally known as the European Coal and Steel Community. What started as an economic alliance between two nations laid the foundation for the modern EU and its 27 countries (post-Brexit) as we know it today.
Robert G. Edwards
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2010
Anyone who has ever struggled with fertility issues knows that after trying to conceive naturally for a while, one common alternative option is in vitro fertilization (IVF). This process involves medical professionals fertilizing eggs outside of the womb and then implanting the embryos into a woman’s uterus. While the procedure can be costly, IVF is still one of the most effective forms of reproductive assistance.
If you’ve ever considered or used IVF or were conceived through this process, you have Robert G. Edwards and his team of scientists to thank. Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010 for his groundbreaking work of conceptualizing and creating the IVF process, which began in the 1960s and culminated with the first successful IVF pregnancy in 1978.
Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993
American writer Toni Morrison focused on the female narrative through the lens of the Black experience. While Morrison’s works take place in a variety of eras, the focus of her most popular pieces is the transition from slavery to the Reconstruction Era or life in the first half of the 20th century. One of her most iconic works is “Beloved,” a novel written in 1987 that was later adapted into a movie by the same name starring Oprah Winfrey.
In 1993, Toni Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature. She is credited for creating novels that took an unflinching look at American life and the reality of the black experience within it. The prolific author penned multiple novels and served in influential roles at various universities including as a professor at Princeton University.
Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, & Yitzhak Rabin
Nobel Peace Prize, 1994
It’s not uncommon for multiple people to receive an award within one category. This happens often in the science divisions but also for the Nobel Peace Prize, as was the case in 1994. In the mid-1990s, tensions were high between Palestine and Israel, with the risk of conflict leaving many nations in the region on edge.
Between 1992 and 1993, secret delegations from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel — including the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres — met several times in secret to draft what became known as the Oslo Accords. The agreement outlined clear territory for Palestine, the establishment of a Palestinian government in Gaza, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian areas, and mutual recognition between both parties of the other organization’s existence.
While PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin weren’t physically involved with the Oslo Accords meetings, they signed off on the final agreement in the iconic photo from 1993 showing Arafat and Rabin shaking hands in front of President Bill Clinton. For their involvement, Arafat, Rabin, and Peres were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
Cover image credit: rrodrickbeiler/ iStock