Who Are the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Laureates for Literature?

All you need to know about Nobel Laureates Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke.

3 min read
Who Are the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Laureates for Literature?

The Nobel Prize for Literature for the years 2018 and 2019 were awarded to Polish writer and activist Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian novelist, playwright, and translator Peter Handke respectively.

On Thursday, 10 October, the Swedish Academy announced the winners for the 2019 award and the deferred 2018 award. Last year, the award was deferred because of sexual abuse accusations against Jean-Claude Arnault, a Swedish cultural heavyweight whose wife was a member of the Nobel’s selection committee.

According to the Academy’s website, Olga Tokarczuk was conferred the 2018 accolade “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”, while Peter Handke received the 2019 award “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”

Here’s a brief look at the writers’ contribution to the literature and culture.


Olga Tokarczuk’s Award Winning Legacy Continues

Olga Tokarczuk is a Polish writer and activist who became popular in the English-reading literary world after her novel Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft) won the Man Booker International in 2018, making her the first Polish writer to have won this literary award.

Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft) won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018.
(Photo Courtesy: The Booker Prizes)

In the following year, another one of her books, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) was shortlisted for the Man Booker International.

In 2019, Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob (translated by Maryla Laurent) — a 900-page behemoth that spans seven countries, three religions, and five languages — won her the Prix Laure Bataillon Award for the best foreign-language book translated into French in the last year.

“I don’t have a clear biography of my own that I could recount in an interesting way. I’m made up of the characters that I pulled out of my head, that I invented,” Tokarczuk said in an interview with The Polish Book Institute.

With regard to activism, Tokarczuk is known for her criticism of Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government. She even received death threats in 2015 after telling state media that an open and tolerant Poland was a myth.

Peter Handke’s Political Sympathies Taint His Literary Contribution

Peter Handke, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, had criticised the award back in 2014, when he told Austrian media that the prize brings its winner “false canonisation” along with “one moment of attention (and) six pages in the newspaper.”

Handke is a novelist, playwright, poet, and translator. He burst onto the literary scene in 1966 with his novel The Hornets and with the play Offending the Audience, in which four actors dissect the nature of theatre and then turn on the audience.

Austrian writer Peter Handke in his study.
(Photo Courtesy: Reddit)

With the Nobel, Handke’s political views came into question once again.

In the 1990s, Handke emerged as a vocal defender of the Serbs in the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia, even comparing them to the Jews under the Nazis, a remark he later retracted.

He has also been a vocal supporter of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, who was charged with war crimes in connection to the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo.

At the 2006 funeral of Milošević — who died while on trial for mass murder and who wanted Handke to testify in his defence — the writer made a speech in front of thousands of mourners. Post this, some stood up for Handke but many others, from Susan Sontag to Salman Rushdie, lined up to lambast him.

After the Nobel Prize for Literature, all eyes are now on Nobel Peace Prize to be announced on 11 October 2019.


(With inputs from PTI)

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