Samuel Beckett

When Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, his longtime companion, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, described it as "a catastrophe," and the playwright himself refused to show up for the award ceremony. That was typical of this giant of 20th century literature who challenged convention for most of his life, and ended up inspiring an entire generation of artists with his stripped-down vision of humanity's existential struggles — a vision that was often as ridiculous as it was bleak. "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," says one of his characters in the play Endgame, talking from a dustbin.

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