Jon Fosse Wins 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature


Briga News Nigeria

The Norwegian writer was honored “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.” The prize is awarded for a writer’s entire body of work.

Here’s what to know.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded on Thursday to the Norwegian novelist and playwright Jon Fosse “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.”

Fosse’s work has long been lauded throughout continental Europe, but he has recently found a growing audience in the English-speaking world. By receiving what is widely seen as the most prestigious prize in literature, he joins a list of laureates including Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro and the French writer Annie Ernaux, who last year was awarded the Nobel for books that plumb her personal passions and tragedies.

Critics have long compared Fosse’s sparse plays to the work of two previous Nobel laureates: Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. And he had long been tipped to win. In 2013, British bookmakers temporarily suspended betting on the prize after a flurry of bets on Fosse’s winning. In the end, the action proved unnecessary, as Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer, took the award.

Along the prestige and a huge boost in book sales, Fosse receives 11 million Swedish krona, about $991,000.

In recent years, the Swedish Academy, which organizes the prize, has tried to increase the diversity of considered authors after facing criticism that only 17 Nobel laureates had been women, and that the vast majority were from Europe or North America. The choice of Fosse is likely to be interpreted as step back from those efforts.

Before Thursday’s announcement, at a news conference in Stockholm, Fosse was among the favorites, although Can Xue, a Chinese writer of often surreal and experimental short stories was the also tipped, as were Haruki Murakami; Gerald Murnane, a reclusive Australian author; and Laszlo Krasznahorkai, a Hungarian author who Susan Sontag once called a “master of the apocalypse.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2022, Jon Fosse spoke about his evolution as a writer, his relationship to God and mysticism, and how he tries in his writing to push the boundaries of what language can evoke.

“When I manage to write well, there is a second, silent language,” he said. “This silent language says what it is all about. It’s not the story, but you can hear something behind it — a silent voice speaking.”

He also described how writing in Nynorsk rather than in Bokmål, the more widely used Norwegian language for literature, was not a political act but simply a creative choice.

“It’s simply my language,” he said. “It’s what I learned from my first day in school until I left, so for some 12 or 13 years. It’s a minority language, and that’s only an advantage for me as a writer. It’s almost never used in commercials or business the way it is in academia, literature, and in church.”

Fosse’s reaction to receiving the accolade: “I am overwhelmed and grateful,” he said in a news release issued by his Norwegian publisher. “I see this as an award to the literature that first and foremost aims to be literature, without other considerations.”

Jon Fosse is “at his cabin on the west coast” of Norway talking to the country’s television networks, his Norwegian publisher said.

Fosse is so famous in his native Norway that this past summer the Third International Fosse Festival was held at Det Norske Teater in Oslo. It is a biannual event with a program focusing on the author, and this year lasted 12 days.

Who is Jon Fosse?

Jon Fosse made his name as a novelist, starting in 1983 with “Red, Black,” and in recent years there has been surge of interest in his fiction.

His “A New Name: Septology VI-VII,” the last in a seven-novel sequence, explores an older man’s reckoning with God, and was a finalist for the 2022 National Book Awards. Several of his works have recently been published to acclaim by Fitzcarraldo Editions, a trendy British publisher that is home to several Nobel winners including Annie Ernaux.

But Fosse, 64, is perhaps better known in much of Europe for his plays. He turned to theater in his mid-30s and has since produced some 40 works that have been translated into dozens of languages. Several have been performed in New York, including “I Am the Wind” and “Deathvariations” about a couple coming to terms with the death of their daughter.

Anita Gates, in a 2006 review of “Deathvariations” for The New York Times, said it was easy to see Fosse’s work “as Ibsen stripped down to its emotional essentials. But it is much more,” adding that his play had “a fierce poetic simplicity.”

Although widely staged on the continent, Fosse’s plays rarely make a dent in London or New York, and Anglo-Saxon audiences can find them obtuse. Ben Brantley, the former chief theater critic for The New York Times, highlighted that problem in a 2014 review: “Red lights are sure to flash in the minds of certain theatergoers when they hear that the characters in ‘I Am the Wind’ are identified as the One and the Other,” he said.

In 2018, Fosse told The Financial Times that he knew his work was difficult for some. “You don’t read my books for the plots,” he said. “But it’s not because I want to be a difficult writer,” he added. “I’ve never tried to write in a complicated way. I always try to write as simply and, I hope, as deeply as I possibly can.”

When asked what his work was about, he said, “I try to write about the mystery of life,” adding, “I’m not looking for answers in a simple way; I want to celebrate the enigma.”

Fosse is also known for teaching. His former students include Karl Ove Knausgaard, the Norwegian writer, who has also been tipped for the Nobel Prize.



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