The Swedish Academy said Pinter's plays uncover "the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."
In its citation, the academy said the 75-year-old playwright restored the art form. His works include "The Room," "The Birthday Party," and his breakthrough work, "The Caretaker."
"Pinter restored theatre to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles," the academy said.
The award will have two immediate consequences: increased book sales and controversy. Last year's winner, Austrian feminist Elfriede Jelinek (search), drew such ire that a member of the academy publicly blasted his colleagues for picking her.
The academy, founded in 1786 by King Gustav III to advance the Swedish language and its literature, has handed out the literature prize since 1901. To date 102 men and women have received the prize, including France's Jean-Paul Sartre, who declined the 1964 prize.