Norwegian author Jon Fosse wins 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature

October 5, 2023 - 7:23 PM
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Jon Fosse poses, in Oslo, Norway, September 6, 2019. (NTB/Hakon Mosvold Larsenvia)
  • Fosse is one of the world’s most performed playwrights
  • Author was among bookies’ favorites to win
  • First Norwegian to win literature prize since 1928

STOCKHOLM — Norwegian author and dramatist Jon Fosse won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable,” the award-giving body said on Thursday.

The prize is awarded by the Swedish Academy and is worth 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million).

Born in 1959 in Haugesund on Norway’s west coast, Fosse is one of the world’s most performed playwrights but his work spans a variety of genres including plays, novels, poetry collections, essays, children’s books and translations.

His work “touches on the deepest feelings that you have, anxieties, insecurities, questions of life and death,” Swedish Academy member Anders Olsson said.

“It has a sort of universal impact of everything that he writes. And it doesn’t matter if it is drama, poetry or prose, it the same kind of appeal of basic humanism,” Olsson said.

Fosse, seen as a regular contender to win the prize and among this year’s favorites in the betting odds, said he was “overwhelmed and somewhat frightened” by the award.

“I see this as an award to the literature that first and foremost aims to be literature, without other considerations,” he said in a statement.

Fosse has spoken extensively of his recovery from alcoholism and a struggle to overcome social anxiety, and the role played by religious faith.

“It’s possible to free oneself from alcoholism, but it’s hard to transition from a life governed by addiction to one led by something other than alcohol,” Fosse said in a Norwegian Salvation Army interview in 2021.

“My conversion (to Catholicism) and the fact that I am a practicing Catholic, has helped me,” Fosse said at the time.

Fosse is the fourth Norwegian to win the Nobel Prize for literature, but the first since 1928.

Breakthrough works

His European breakthrough as a dramatist came with Claude Régy’s 1999 Paris production of his 1996 play “Nokon kjem til å komme” (“Someone Is Going to Come”).

His magnum opus in prose is the “Septology” series of three books divided into seven parts which he completed in 2021 – “Det andre namnet” (“The Other Name” – 2019), “Eg er ein annan” (“I is Another – 2020), and “Eit nytt namn” (“A New Name” – 2021).

“The work progresses seemingly endlessly and without sentence breaks, but it is formally held together by recurring themes and ritual gestures of prayer in a timespan of seven days,” the Academy’s Olsson said.

Fosse, 64, writes in the least common of the two official versions of Norwegian. He said he regarded the award as a recognition of this language and the movement promoting it, and that he ultimately owed the prize to the language itself.

Known as “new Norwegian” and used by only about 10% of the population, Fosse‘s version of the language was developed in the 19th century with rural dialects at its base, making it an alternative to the dominant use of Danish that followed from a 400-year union with Denmark.

According to his publisher, Fosse‘s work has been translated into more than 40 languages, and there have been more than 1,000 different productions of his plays.

Since 2011 Fosse has lived at the Grotto, an honorary residence located on the premises of Oslo’s royal palace that has housed some of Norway’s foremost authors and composers in the last century.

He told Norwegian broadcaster NRK: “I thought there was some chance. It was a big joy to receive the phone call,” he said, adding that it came while he was driving.

Asked how he would celebrate, he said: “There will be a nice dinner with the family.”

Established in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel, the prizes for achievements in literature, science and peace have been awarded since 1901, becoming a career pinnacle in the fields.

The economics prize is a later addition established by the Swedish central bank.

Alongside the peace prize, literature has often drawn the most attention, and controversy, thrusting lesser known authors into the global spotlight as well as lifting book sales for well-established literary super stars.

Over the years, the literature prize has also picked winners well beyond the novelist tradition, including playwrights, historians, philosophers and poets, even breaking new ground with the award to singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016.