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Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke

Two winners were announced today as the prize was not awarded in 2018 following a scandal.

Image: Shutterstock/Paramonov Alexander

THE NOBEL PRIZE for literature has been awarded to both Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke. 

Olga Tokarczuk is a Polish writer, whose best-known works include Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and the Man Booker International prize-winning Flights. 

Peter Handke is a playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist from Austria. His best-known work is the 1970 novel The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, as well as his memoir about his deceased mother A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. 

Two winners were announced today as the prize was not awarded in 2018. This was the first delay in the prize’s 70-year history. 

Tokarczuk was named as the winner for 2018, while the Handke was named as the winner for 2019.

Only 15 of the 114 literature laureates since 1901 have been women.

The academy suspended the award process last year after it was engulfed in a sexual assault scandal. 

The Swedish Academy, which oversees the prestigious award, praised Tokarczuk’s “narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”. 

It said Handke had produced “influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and specificity of human experience. 

The decision to award Handke the prize has sparked criticism due to his support of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader who was tried for war crimes in The Hague over the Balkan wars in the 1990s, whose funeral he attended. 

Dating back to 1786, the Academy is trying to repair its reputation after the scandal exposed scheming, conflicts of interest, harassment and a culture of silence among its 18 members, long treated as the country’s guardians of culture.

Nobel sex scandal

The Academy’s woes began in November 2017 when it disagreed about how to manage its close ties to Frenchman Jean-Claude Arnault, accused and later convicted of rape.

Arnault is married to Katarina Frostenson, a member of the Academy who later resigned over the scandal at the height of the #MeToo movement against harassment of women.

The pair also ran a cultural club in Stockholm that received funding from the body.

Ultimately, seven members quit the Academy, including then permanent secretary Sara Danius.

“From having been associated with literature of the highest order, the Nobel Prize is for many now associated with #MeToo … and a dysfunctional organisation,” Swedish literary critic Madelaine Levy told AFP.

Reputational damage

Members have since been replaced, and literature professor Mats Malm took over as permanent secretary in June.

“The changes have been very productive and we are hopeful for the future,” Malm told AFP ahead of today’s announcement. 

He acknowledged the scandal had tainted the institution and said improvements were still needed, stating: “A lot of hard work remains, of that we are certain.”

Retired publisher Svante Weyler said he thought the Academy’s – and prize’s – reputation could be repaired, “but only through wise choices of laureates”.

Giving the nod to US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016 also led some to question the Academy’s judgement.

The Academy used to be the sole arbiter of who gets the Nobel Literature Prize.

However following demands of external oversight from the Nobel Foundation, which manages the prize money, the selection committee has been altered to include five members from outside the body.

Contains reporting from Dominic McGrath and © AFP 2019  

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Órla Ryan

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