Congratulations were cascading over Jon Fosse on Thursday after the Norwegian author and playwright won this year’s Nobel Prize for literature. He had fled the capital of Oslo to shield himself from all the publicity in case he actually did win, but state broadcaster NRK tracked him down to the small west coast town of Frekhaug in Nordhordland.
“I was surprised when they (The Swedish Academy) called, but at the same time I wasn’t,” Fosse told NRK. “I’ve been part of the discussion (over potential winners) since 2013, so in one way, I was aware this could happen.” More than nine years passed, though, “and nothing happened, so I didn’t believe it would happen this year either.”
Fosse, speaking in his native nynorsk that’s one of Norway’s two official forms of language, has indeed been a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize. It’s been 95 years since the last Norwegian won the honour (Sigrid Undset in 1928) and some literary experts contend Fosse’s name has circulated since 2001. The Swedish Academy’s jury cited his “special abilities” as a dramatist and his “special manner” of writing.
Read how the the chairman of the Nobel Committee at The Swedish Academy assessed Fosse’s work here (external link to The Nobel Prize’s website).
Fosse stressed that he was glad to have won the prize, “but I’m also glad on behalf of nynorsk,” the landsmål form of language compiled by a Norwegian researcher and poet (Ivar Aasen) who traveled around the western and rural areas of Norway in the mid-1800s to collect and systematiize local dialects to create a form of Norwegian that wasn’t so heavily influenced by Danish. It was a time of national romanticism and nation-building after 400 years under Danish rule, followed by nearly another century as part of a forced union with Sweden. Nynorsk remains controversial among those who feel that one official language (the more widespread bokmål form of Norwegian) is enough for a country of less than 6 million inhabitants.
Fosse, who was born in Haugesund in 1959 and grew up in the small community of Strandebarm in Hardanger, has written and speaks consistently in nynorsk, though, and been a strong proponent of the language form since his first novel Raudt (Rødt, or “Red” in English) was published in 1983. Since then he’s written 14 books, scores of stories, essays and poetry plus around 20 plays after debuting as a dramatist in 1993.
He’s won many other prizes over the years, including the Nordic Council’s literature prize in 2015, the Willy Brandt- and Ibsen prizes and many awarded by leading publishers in Norway. He received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Bergen, in 2015, and was granted the rare honour in Norway of being chosen to live in Norway’s honorary residence for artists, called Grotten and located on the ground of the Royal Palace in Oslo. Fosse was also knighted in 2005 by King Harald V, who was among the many congratulating Fosse on Thursday.
For all the hype and recognition, Fosse remained a soft-spoken, even reserved figure on the waterfront of Frekhaug Thursday afternoon, with his arms crossed and appearing a bit nervous as he answered NRK’s questions and commented on his new Nobel Prize. He acknowleged that “it’s the most important prize you can get, no more or less,” but when asked what it will mean for his career and lifestyle, he responded “little, I hope and believe.” He noted how he started writing at the age of 12 and that “it’s my life.”
He also admitted he had fled Oslo this week, when all the Nobel prizewinners are being announced, to escape too much commotion in case he won. “I’m glad to be in Frekhaug today,” he told NRK. He said he would celebrate his prize “very quietly, with the family, breathe a sigh of relief and try to be happy that I won the Nobel Prize.”