Stockholm: In an unusual yet not unprecedented move, the Swedish Academy announced Nobel Prize winners in Literature for the years 2018 and 2019 simultaneously.
This is first time the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced after two years. The 2018 prize was delayed by a year after a sexual assault scandal rocked the award-giving Academy.
Mr Handke won the 2019 prize for “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,” the Academy said in a statement.
Ms Tokarczuk was seleceted “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
Both the authors won 9m Swedish krona each (£746,678). “It is a full prize,” a judge said.
The judges described Tokarczuk as “a writer preoccupied by local life ... but looking at earth from above ... her work is full of wit and cunning.”
Aside from her novels, which are wide-ranging and brilliantly translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Jennifer Croft, she also has political heft. As public intellectual, feminist vegetarian, she has frequently rankled the conservative edges of Poland.
Tokarczuk also won the 2018 Man Booker International prize for her novel Flights – “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
Mr Handke, Austrian playwright and author, selection come days after the Swedish Academy promised to move away from the “male-oriented” and “Eurocentric” past of the Nobel prize in literature. Handke doesn’t change either of those directions.
His bibliography contains novels, essays, note books, dramatic works and screenplays. He has lived in Paris since the 1990s, and is most famous for the play Uber die Dorfer (Walk about the Villages) and particularly the novel Die Wiederholung (Repetition).
The unprecedented decision to confer two prizes today was expected, because after a sex scandal, the Swedish Academy announced in May 2018 that it would announce the 2018 literature prize in 2019 only.
The decision to postpone the announcement of 2018 Nobel prize came after a sex scandal that had embroiled the academy and threatened the future of the world’s most prestigious literary award. The controversy erupted in late 2017 when news broke that French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of a member of the academy, had been accused of multiple instances of sexual assault and harassment over a period of many years.
Arnault and his wife were also accused of misusing academy funds and even leaking the names of prize winners for profit. In the internecine battle that followed, Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the academy, was forced out of her position over her handling of an investigation into Arnault’s behavior. Several other members resigned or refused to participate on the Nobel committee.
Arnault was subsequently found guilty of rape, fined and sentenced to more than two years in prison. Critics around the world called for more transparency to help rebuild the prize’s reputation. Delaying the 2018 prize until this year was intended to provide time for necessary housekeeping. The academy has since removed members with conflicts of interest, added new members and appointed Mats Malm as the new permanent secretary.
Honoring two authors in one year is unusual for the Nobel Prize in literature, but it is not unprecedented. It has happened four times in the past, most recently in 1974 when the Swedish writers Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson won. The difference this year is that Handke and Tokarczuk are not sharing the prize; they’re each getting their own and about $910,000 apiece.