The Nobel Prize for Literature Winner
By Grace Briggs-Jones, Jamie Fowler, Clara Garnier-Barsanti and Maria Sadek
This year marks the 116th time the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded since its inauguration in 1901. The award was the fourth Nobel Prize established by Alfred Nobel and is granted every year by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm to an author who is determined to have “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind,” with each winner receiving a medal, a diploma and a monetary prize. This year’s winner has been announced as Norwegian author Jon Fosse, “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.” On the morning of the announcement, readers were already familiar with Jon Fosse whose third volume of Septology had been shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2022. As his Norwegian editor says, “if you open any book by Jon and read a couple of lines, it couldn’t be written by anyone else.”
Born on the west coast of Norway in 1959, Jon Fosse has been the recipient of countless prestigious awards, both in his native Norway and abroad. At seven, Fosse was in a serious accident which brought him close to death; this experience significantly influenced his writing in adulthood. As a teenager, Fosse wanted to be a rock guitarist but gave up his musical ambitions, giving him more time to dedicate to writing. Published in 1983, Fosse’s first novel, Raudt, Svart (Red, Black), was influenced by Tarjei Vesaas, a Nynorsk writer (other later influences come from Olav H. Hauge, Virginia Woolf and the Bible). A huge contrast to the social realist fiction that was popular in Norway at the time, Fosse’s novel emphasised linguistic expression over plot. In 2003, Fosse was made a chevalier of the Orde national du Mérite of France and even ranked number eighty-three on the list of the Top 100 Living Geniuses by The Daily Telegraph. Another award won by Fosse is the 2015 Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for the trilogy Andvake (Wakefulness), Olavs Draumar (Olav’s Dreams), and Kveldsvævd (Weariness). Fosse was also named a finalist for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. Mohammad Hamed has translated many of Fosse’s works into Persian which have been performed on the main stages in Tehran. Sarah Cameron Sunde has also translated six of Fosse’s plays into American-English and directed their American debut productions in New York City and Pittsburgh. Since 2011, Fosse has been granted the Grotten. This is an honorary residence owned by the Norwegian state and located on the premises of the Royal Palace in Oslo. This is a special honour bestowed by the King of Norway himself for contributions to Norwegian arts and culture.
Fosse has an extensive catalogue of novels, plays, children’s books, essays and short stories which have been translated all over the world. If you are keen to explore this incredible writer’s extensive catalogue of work, then here are some recommendations, with a particular focus on works that have been translated into English.
If you had to read only one fiction, Aliss at the Fire would take you to his roots, the western fjords, in a novella that explores with mysteriousness the repeated circles of fate and loss. Boathouse, another fiction acclaimed worldwide, or Morning and Evening are both great examples of Jon Fosse. His writing is originally done in Nynorsk (New Norwegian) – a minority language in Norway – which surely contributes to his blueprint. His literary path could have taken another road if Damion Searls hadn’t discovered him through a German translation of Melancholy and decided to learn Norwegian in order to bring him into the English sphere. But readers can be reassured, you will be able to find his last novel, A Shining, published last year, in your favourite local bookshop.
Following Henrik Ibsen as the next most performed playwright in Norway, Fosse’s prolific and eclectic plays were compiled by Bloomsbury into six collections, titled Fosse: Plays One, Fosse: Plays Two etc., as part of their Oberon Modern Plays series. These collections include Noken Kjem til å Komme (Someone Is Going to Come), which follows a man and a woman bound by their anxiety of being found in the abandoned house they sought solitude in, and Namnet (The Name), which focuses on an expectant mother waiting for the father to show up. Together these plays marked Fosse’s shift into European dramatic royalty due to the success of their Parisian and German productions respectively.
If you are seeking to immerse yourself in Fosse’s short fiction, then look no further than the collection Scenes from a Childhood; a semi-autobiographical collaging of memories that chart the complexities of childhood through Fosse’s lyrical, dream-like and haunting writing style.
With his plays and literature having such a wide reach, and having twenty-four awards under his hat, it seems only appropriate that the Nobel Prize for Literature 2023 should be awarded to Jon Fosse and his fabulous catalogue. Congratulations!