Overwhelmed, frightened: Jon Fosse, on winning literature Nobel

According to the Swedish Academy, the Nobel prize was awarded to Jon Fosse for “his innovative plays and prose, which give voice to the unsayable

Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse has won the 2023 Nobel prize for literature. Following the announcement on Thursday, and in a statement released by his publishing house, Fosse said that he sees the award as “an award to the literature that first and foremost aims to be literature, without other considerations”.

Fosse also said that he is “overwhelmed, and somewhat frightened” by receiving the honour.  The 64-year-old is the author of around 40 plays, novels, short stories, children’s books, poetry and essays. 

According to the Swedish Academy, the Nobel prize was awarded to him for  “his innovative plays and prose, which give voice to the unsayable”. Fosse’s work is rooted “in the language and nature of his Norwegian background,” said Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel literature committee.

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The 64-year-old Fosse, also a poet, writes in a version of Norwegian only spoken by about 10% of the population of Norway. Known as “new Norwegian”, it is one of the two official versions of the language. Built on rural dialects, it came about in the 19th century as an an alternative to Danish. Fosse said that the prize therefore was, for him, also a recognition of this language. 

A literature student, his debut novel Red, Black came out in 1983. It was not until the early ’90s, that Fosse, a struggling writer, took up a commission to write the beginning of a play. According to reports, he was so taken by the form that he went on to complete it. The completed play is titled Someone is Going to Come. 

Fosse is now known mostly as a playwright and is supposed to be the most performed playwright from Norway, second to only Henrik Ibsen. As per reports, his work has been translated into over 40 languages, and his plays have been staged in over a thousand different productions.

In 2022, the third volume of Fosse’s Septology, a 1250-page semi-autobiographical work of prose, written as a stream of consciousness with no line breaks or full stops, was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Tomb of Sand, Daisy Rockwell’s English translation of the Hindi novel Ret Samadhi by Geetanjali Shree won that year. 

Also Read: We should celebrate multilingualism: Geetanjali Shree 

With the 2023 Nobel, Fosse becomes the fourth Norwegian writer to receive the award. The first was Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1903, Knut Hamsun in 1920, and Sigrid Undset in 1928. 

Last year, the literature Nobel went to the French writer and memoirist Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”. The year before that, British Tanzanian-born writer Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the Nobel for his work exploring the torments of exile, colonialism and racism.

The Nobel Prizes comes with a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor (approximately $1 million), an 18-carat gold medal, and diploma. The award ceremony will take place in December.

Also Read: Annie Ernaux’s mastery of the memoir

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