Nobel Prize for Literature: John Fosse 2023 Laureate

Norwegian novelist, poet and playwright Jan Fosse – who has found a growing audience in the English-speaking world for novels with themes of ageing, death, love and art – was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. Innovative plays and prose that give voice to the unspeakable.”

A prolific writer who has published some 40 plays, novels, poems, essays, children’s books and works in translation, Fosse has long been respected for his spare, transcendent language and formal experimentation.

At a news conference on Thursday, Anders Olsen, chairman of the Nobel Literature Committee, praised Foss’s “sensitive language that explores the limits of words.”

Fosse’s works have been translated into nearly 50 languages, and he is one of the world’s most widely performed living playwrights. But he has recently gained popularity in English-speaking countries, mainly thanks to his fiction: “A New Name: Septology VI-VII” was a finalist for the National Book Award last year, and two of his novels have been nominated. Booker International Prize.

It has been rumored for a long time that he will get the Nobel Prize. In 2013, even British bookmakers The race for the award was temporarily suspended After betting on his success, the prize did not come to him for another decade. Finally, when the Nobel Prize organizers got a call, Fosse was on his way to Freikog, a village on Norway’s west coast where he has a home.

In a statement sent through his Norwegian publication, Fosse, 64, said he was “really happy and surprised” to receive the award. “I’ve been in the favorites for 10 years and felt certain I’d never win the prize,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

Asked what he hopes to convey to readers in his work, Foss said he hopes to convey a sense of peace.

“I hope they can find some kind of peace in my writing or from it,” he said.

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In receiving what is widely seen as the most prestigious honor in literature, Fosse (whose name is pronounced Yoon Fosse-eh according to his translator) joins a list of laureates including Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro and Annie Erneaux.

Critics have compared Fosse’s sparse plays to the work of two Nobel laureates, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. He is also known as the “new Ibsen” after the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Born in Haugesund in 1959, Fosse grew up on a small farm in Strandefarm in western Norway. He began writing poems and stories at the age of 12, and says that writing is a form of escape. “I made my own place in the world and I felt safe” He said The Guardian in 2014.

As a youth, he was a communist and an anarchist. He studied comparative literature at the University of Bergen. Fosse writes in Nynorsk, a minority language, rather than Bokmål, the Norwegian language used more for literature. Although some interpret the use of Nynorsk as a political statement, Foss has stated that it is the language that developed.

In 1983, he published his first novel, “Red, Black”, which launched a remarkably prolific career. Among his most famous works are the “Melancholia” novels, about melancholy in the mind of a painter; His novel “Morning and Evening”, which begins with the moment of the protagonist’s birth and ends with the last day of his life; and the seven-volume work “Septology,” which runs to more than 1,000 pages and is about two aging artists who are the same person: one who has achieved success, the other who has become an alcoholic.

Jacques Destart, founder of Fitzcarraldo Editions, Fosse’s British publisher, said his work touched on themes of “love, art, death, grief and friendship”, while “the landscape of the western fjords near Bergen where he grew up” was almost a character. in himself.

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Although he began as a poet and novelist, Fosse rose to prominence as a playwright. In the late 1990s, he gained international recognition with the Paris production of his first play, “Someone’s Coming,” about a man and woman seeking solitude in a remote seaside house. Fosse has said that he wrote it in four or five days and never edited it.

For 15 years, he focused on theater and traveled widely for international productions of his plays. But then he decided to turn back to fiction, stopped traveling, gave up alcohol and converted to Catholicism.

Ex Atheist Fosse, who discovered religion later in life, described writing as a form of mystical communion.

“When I write well, I have a second, quieter language,” he said Interview with The Los Angeles Review of Books In 2022. “This silent language says what it is about. It’s not the story, but you can hear something behind it – a quiet voice speaking.

While Fosse’s work is sometimes methodologically experimental — for example, “Septology” unfolds into a single sentence of stream-of-nonsense narrative — it can often feel overwhelming and gripping.

Decades of writing taught Foss humility, and to set aside expectations, he said in an email interview Thursday.

“When I started writing, I never thought I would be able to write a new work,” he said. “I don’t plan anything in advance, I just sit down and start writing. At a certain point, I feel that the work is already written and I have to write it before it disappears.

“His work can be deceptively simple,” said Adam Z. Levy, publisher of Transit Books, the small press that began publishing Foss in the U.S. in 2020 with his first “Septology” series. “He often writes spare, condensed prose, but his books take you by surprise. They take on this really moving quality. The sentences repeat themselves, they loop, they start in the same place, then come back at some point, spiral outward.”

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Damien Searles, one of Fosse’s English-language translators, notes that although Fosse wrote in many mediums, the unifying thread in his work was a sense of calm, which is why his work is often described as hypnotic or spiritually evocative. Experience.

“One of the key words he uses to talk about his fiction is silence,” said Searles, who translates from German, Norwegian, French and Dutch. “There’s a real peace to it, and even though things happen, people die, people get divorced, it exudes this peace.”

With a huge boost in value and book sales, Fosse will get 11 million Swedish krona, about $991,000.

Before Fosse, the last Norwegian recipients of the Nobel Literature were Sigrid Unset, the historical fiction writer who won the prize in 1928, and Knut Hamsson in 1920.

In recent years, the Swedish Academy, which organizes the prize, has sought to increase the diversity of writers considered after facing criticism that only 17 Nobel laureates are women, most from Europe or North America. Foss’s choice could be interpreted as a step back from those efforts.

Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, Can Xue, a Chinese writer who often writes surreal and experimental short stories, like Haruki Murakami, spoke at a news conference in Stockholm. Salman Rushdie; and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan novelist and playwright.

In a statement released through his Norwegian publisher on Thursday, Foss said he was “overwhelmed, somewhat scared”.

When asked about his hopes of winning the Nobel nearly a decade ago, he said he wanted to win it “for sure” and was wary of the burden of expectations it would bring.

“Usually, they give it to very old writers, and there’s a wisdom to it,” he said. An interview With The Guardian. “You get it when it doesn’t affect your writing.”


Elizabeth A. Harris Contributed report.

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