Jon Fosse Wins the 2023 Nobel Prize for Literature

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Jon Fosse (f. 1959). Norsk forfatter, dramatiker og oversetter. Fotografert Februar 2019 Foto: Tom A. Kolstad

It would be an understatement to say that Norweigan author, playwright and translator Jon Fosse has impacted Scandinavian literature. His post-dramatic style, with novellas such as Aliss at the Fire, The Boathouse, and Melancholia I and II, and plays like Dream of Autumn, Death Variations and I Am the Wind have established him as one of the foremost Norweigan literary figures of the last two centuries. Named as one of the foremost great modernist writers of the contemporary era, with a long, celebrated career, Fosse is an obvious choice for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature

Fosse is perhaps most famous for his Septology I-VII series, a rambling monologue across several volumes centring on the ageing artist Asle as he lives out his remaining days in the barren cold landscape of remote Norway. Like the rest of his works, this focuses on themes of existentialism, self-doubt, faith, and lingering, haunting, longing. Lonesome, ostracised figures lie at the centre of Fosse’s works, with the author giving voice to those who otherwise are forced to skulk in the shadows, trapped at the border of accepted society, constantly, desperately searching for a way in through the cracks. Fosse has been heralded for the innovation of his plays, which often take place within simplistic isolated settings, allowing the deepest, rawest feelings of his troubled characters to erupt to the surface. This minimalistic approach has been aptly labelled ‘Fosse minimalism’, and is considered now a style in its own right. 

One could argue that Fosse’s flowers are far overdue; within Norway and much of northern Europe, the popularity of his works can only be rivalled by Henrik Ibsen himself. Indeed, Fosse is the second most performed playwright in Norway, beaten by his metaphorical predecessor Ibsen, whose legacy seems so closely entwined with his own that Fosse could even be argued as a second incarnation of the legendary playwright. Much like Ibsen, however, it has taken years for Fosse to get the recognition he so deserves beyond the borders of his own country, helped in part by new translations that are now finally available worldwide.

With the grandeur of the Nobel Prize for Literature comes a large reward sum of over £800,000, not to mention the fame and honour of being heralded alongside the other 119 winners; George Bernard Shaw, Toni Morrison, and Kazuo Ishiguro, to name but a few. There is no official shortlist released for the prize. Still, it was rumoured that the other possible contenders for the 2023 award included Haruki Marakami and Margaret Atwood, with Annie Ernaux being the winner of the 2022 prize. Fosse is the fourth Norweigan author, and the first native-Nynorsk speaker, to win. The prize does not celebrate an author’s particular work, but rather, their entire catalogue, allowing Fosse’s fifty years’ worth of works to be celebrated equally in all their glory. 

Words by Alice Fortt

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