Renowned Norwegian playwright and author Jon Fosse said he was “very glad and grateful” that he won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for 2015. Many others were wondering why he hadn’t won earlier.
Fosse, age 56, is widely considered to be Norway’s most successful playwright and literary figure since Henrik Ibsen. Since his debut with the novel Raudt, svart (Red, black) in 1983, Fosse has written more than 60 books that have been translated into more than 30 languages. His plays have also been staged around the world and he now lives in Norway’s honorary residence for artists, Grotten, on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo.
He’s also won a long list of literary awards, including the Ibsen Prize, and been a candidate for one of the region’s most prestigious, the Nordic Council (Nordisk råd) Literature Prize, for years. He finally won the Nordic nod Tuesday night at the council’s ministerial gathering, held this year in Reykjavik.
He won for his trilogy that includes Andvake, Olavs draumar and Kveldsvævd, stories written in the nynorsk form of Norwegian about a young couple named Asle and Alida and their baby, described by the council jury as “making their way through the Norwegian city of Bergen shrouded in historical fog.” The settings and timeframe are unclear, varying from the Middle Ages to the 1800s. The books comprise nearly 300 pages of prose, telling a condensed story stretching through generations and centuries and conveying a wealth of dramatic events.
The council called the trilogy “rich in literary and cultural historical references,” with its “sum … greater than its individual parts.” The trilogy, “with its formal sophistication and exploratory approach to story, represents a highlight in recent Norwegian fiction.”
The trilogy debuted in 2007, with the last of the three books not appearing until last year. Commentators suggested that Fosse may not have won the Nordic Council’s prize before now simply because his plays written earlier attract few readers and instead require a stage. This year, noted Ingunn Økland of newspaper Aftenposten, the Norwegian jury could nominate Fosse for the three books making up his trilogy, “and then it’s not surprising that representatives from all the Nordic countries could agree” on awarding him the prize, which includes a cash award of around NOK 430,000.
Two authors from each of the Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) were nominated along with one author each from the Færøe Islands, Greenland, Åland and the Sami-speaking region. The award was said to have arrived not a moment too soon, since Fosse also has long been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The council may well have been embarrassed if Fosse were to win the Nobel without having won its own prize as well.