Before the prize was announced, Mr. Sartre told the Swedish Academy, which bestows the award, that he did not want to receive it. But, as The Times noted, “the academy members felt that he was the only possible recipient” that year.
‘The Egregiously Overlooked’
Sometimes a refusal is about pride, and solidarity.
When the musical “Victor/Victoria” earned only a single Tony Award nomination in 1996, for best actress in a musical, its star, Julie Andrews, met the snub with a snub.
“I have searched my conscience and my heart and find that I cannot accept this nomination,” Ms. Andrews said at the curtain call of a matinee performance, declaring that she would “stand instead with the egregiously overlooked.”
Tony Award officials in turn overlooked her withdrawal, and kept her on the ballot. (The award ended up going to Donna Murphy for “The King and I.”)
In Protest of Intolerance
Sometimes it’s about making a broader point.
That was the motivation of several prominent Indian authors who returned prestigious awards from the country’s National Academy of Letters in 2015 in protest of what they considered increased hostility and intolerance under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Voicing their opposition to what the writer Salman Rushdie called the “thuggish violence” creeping into Indian life and attacks on “ordinary liberties,” dozens of authors and poets like Uday Prakash, Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpeyi relinquished the awards.
“It is high time that writers take a stand,” Mr. Vajpeyi said at the time.
The Knights Who Say No
John Cleese, the actor and comedian, may have been partly joking when he explained why, in 1999, he turned down a British peerage, which would have involved joining the House of Lords: he did not wish to spend winters in England.
But he declined other honors, too. While he portrayed knights in his Monty Python years, he turned down an appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire or CBE, because, as he told The Telegraph, “I think they are silly.”
The refusal of high British honors was less of a laughing matter for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. He turned down a knighthood and other honors, he said, because “I prefer to be called Mr. Jinnah.”
And the shadow of the British Empire likewise hung over the writer Doris Lessing’s decision to decline a damehood in 1992. Ms. Lessing, who grew up in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, rejected the accolade as it was “given in the name of a nonexistent empire.”
Though she also turned down an Officer of the Order of the British Empire honor, or OBE, she went on to accept the title of Companion of Honour for “conspicuous national service,” as well as the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Will He or Won’t He?
Whether Bob Dylan was inclined to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature became a topic of intense speculation in 2016, after he met the announcement of his prize with a prolonged silence — declining, for two weeks, to accept or return phone calls from members of the awarding academy.
He also skipped the awards ceremony in December of that year, citing “pre-existing commitments.”
In the end, however, he delivered his Nobel lecture last June — just in time to claim the award.
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