Norway’s Jon Fosse Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

In News by Porter Anderson

In recognition of ‘his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable,’ Jon Fosse wins the Nobel Prize in Literature 2023.

Jon Fosse. Image: Winje Agency, Agnete Brun

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

At the Winje Office: ‘It’s Overwhelming!’
As Alex Marshall is writing from Europe for The New York Times this morning (October 5), the news of the Norwegian author and playwright Jon Fosse‘s win of the Nobel Prize in Literature comes as his work gains traction in the English-language markets.

At the moment, however, Fosse’s work is best known in his native Norway—he was born in Haugesund in 1959—and in continental Europe. He divides his time between Oslo, Frekhaug near Bergen, and Hainburg an der Donau in Austria. The announcement from the Swedish Academy this morning means that in addition to the honor of being a Nobel laureate, he’s to receive 11 million Swedish krona (US$997,661).

Remarkably prolific—he has written more than 30 plays alone—Fosse has been writing for almost 40 years. In addition to novels and plays, his work includes poems, stories, essays, and children’s books. His first publication, Raudt, svart (Red, Black), was published in 1983—hence the designation of this year as his 40th in his output—but he’s said to consider a short story Han (He), published in a student newspaper in 1981, as his actual literary debut. It’s Naustet (The Boathouse) that in 1989 gave him his key breakthrough as an author.

He’s a former shortlistee of the International Booker Prize and a past finalist of the United States’ National Book Awards.

Literary Agent Gina Winje: ‘Not Real for Me Yet’

Many of our Publishing Perspectives readers who follow our Rights Roundups know Gina Winje of the Winje Agency in Porsgrunn. She’s among the most frequently appearing international literary agents reporting deals to us. Winje has signaled to us, needless to say, that she’s in a very happy office today.

Gina Winje

In a note to us this afternoon, Winje gives us a quick glimpse into what it’s like to be the literary agent at the center of a Nobel Prize in Literature announcement.

“This is probably not real for me and us yet,” she says. “My mailbox is full. So are all other message-channels. I’m overwhelmed by the warmth and happiness from all Fosse-dedicated readers, publishers, translators, co-agents, scouts, journalists like you. It’s overwhelming!

“I’d love to quote Jon Fosse here. He says, “I am overwhelmed and grateful. I see this as an award to the literature that first and foremost aims to be literature, without other considerations.”

Winje’s agency will be at Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 18 to 22) in Hall 4.1/C24. And here with our Rights Roundup hat on: In terms of international rights sales, Jon Fosse’s work has been translated into more than 50 languages and/or territories.

Jon Fosse: ‘A Kind of Grace’

Fosse’s plays alone are reported to have been staged more than 1,000 times in various world venues.

In an interesting development, Fosse—whose work as a playwright seemed to have been paused, especially as he worked on his monumental three-volume, seven-part Septology (Samlaget, 2019, 2020, and 2021)—has returned to theatrical writing as well as prose, with as many as three play scripts being premiered since 2020. As Lucy Knight in London has noted for her updates at The Guardian today, references to Fosse as “the new Henrik Ibsen” are not misplaced.

His most recent novel is Kvitleik (A Shining), published by Samlaget in January, a book in which some may note grim echoes of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Fosse’s book is described, as is Frost’s, as a story “about the border between life and death.”

A journalist by background and a one-time instructor of Karl Ove Knausgaard at Hordaland’s Academy of Writing, Fosse was awarded in 2011 the Norwegian state’s honorary artist’s residence for life, called The Grotto, located in Oslo’s Slottsparken near the royal palace.

In Merve Emre’s interview published in November at The New Yorker, Fosse says, “Sometimes, when I manage to write, I view it as a gift, as a kind of grace. It’s not deserved in a way. You sitting here with me in person—I don’t feel that I deserve it. Even one production of one of my plays—each production takes a lot of work for the actors to learn the lines and the scenography and everything. I’ve made so many people do so much, and I don’t deserve it. It’s more than I deserve.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the many international book and publishing awards is here, more on the Nobel Prize in Literature is here, more on international rights is here, and more on the Norwegian market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.