Bob Dylan: The "Mr. Tambourine Man" singer isn't a traditional laureate, having published little more than a well-received memoir and a collection of poems. However, the honor would be for his elliptical songs of rebellion and protest, many of which are dense with literary allusions that make him a favorite with the ivory tower crowd. He'll have to content himself with another world tour instead of a round-trip to Sweden.
Alice Munro: The Canadian writer is a master of the short story, whose spare prose and emphasis on character over plot have earned her comparisons to Anton Chekhov. Her work includes such acclaimed collections as "Dance of the Happy Shades" (1968) and "The View from Castle Rock" (2006), and she has been a frequent presence in the New Yorker. She's picked up a Man Booker Prize for her achievements. Alas, a Nobel still eludes her.
Joyce Carol Oates: Gloriously prolific, Oates' work ranges from poetry to personal essays to novels. She has worked at a furious pace, churning out nearly a book a year, but the quality has not suffered. "The Falls," "them" and "Wonderland" have been critical and commercial hits, but being popular doesn't count for much with that pesky Nobel committee.
Philip Roth: Nearly as prolific as Oates, but much more polarizing, Roth may be too politically incorrect to ever get a Nobel. Critics love his his witty examinations of politics, sex and religion in books like "Portnoy's Complaint" and "American Pastoral," but his often cutting portraits of women and relationships have left him branded a misogynist.
Don DeLillo: Apparently being one of the fathers of post-modernism guarantees nothing. In books like "Underworld" and "White Noise," DeLillo deconstructed language to tackle such weighty topics as nuclear war and mass media, but his vast literary ambitions have yet to impress a certain group of Scandinavian bookworms.
Haruki Murakami: The Japanese surrealist has become a phenomenon, with his "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" and "1Q84" selling scads of books in America and around the globe. In this case, being a fixture on best-seller lists may have prejudiced Nobel voters, who never met an obscure literary talent they didn't love.
Tom Stoppard: This English playwright tackles thorny problems like censorship and economic inequality with a dollop of linguistics and philosophy for good measure. But a corpus that includes such acclaimed works as "Arcadia" and "The Coast of Utopia," wasn't worthy of a Swedish-style standing ovation.
Thomas Pynchon: Often cited as America's "greatest living novelist" and the author of the magisterial and famously difficult "Gravity's Rainbow," Pynchon has yet to nab the Nobel. It's a shame because were he to get the doorstop, we might finally get a current photo of the reclusive novelist.
The Nobel Prize in Literature was announced Thursday with the honor going to Chinese author Mo Yan. Once again Philip Roth, Tom Stoppard and Alice Munro will have to retreat into their writers' rooms to tend to their wounded pride, for despite racking up legions of fans and massive sales, they are among the snubbed. Fret not, however. Even if they never nab the prize, they will join a literary all-stars like John Updike and Graham Greene, who went off to the great library in the sky without ever being dubbed Nobel Laureates.
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