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(Updated: 9:50 a.m. EST, 10/10/2019)
Topline: Austrian author Peter Handke is the 2019 Nobel laureate in literature, and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was named the 2018 winner after a sexual misconduct scandal rocked the Swedish Academy, forcing the award’s postponement.
- Handke is “one of the most influential writers in Europe after the Second World War,” said the Nobel committee.
- Handke’s notable works include his 1966 debut novel The Hornets and his 1969 play Offending the Audience.
- But Handke’s win is sparking controversy. The Washington Post reports that Handke has been accused of being an apologist for fascism and Serbian nationalism, and was widely condemned for speaking at Slobodan Milošević’s 2006 funeral and suggesting the accused war criminal was misunderstood.
- Kosovo ambassador to the U.S. Vlora Çitaku criticized Handke’s win as “a preposterous and shameful decision” and that “There is nothing nobel about this,” while Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, tweeted she was “reading up on Handke and eep.”
- And the committee said Tokarczuk was honored “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” Tokarczuk’s 2014 novel The Books of Jacob is a “magnum opus,” according to the Nobel committee.
- Along with their Nobel medals, Handke and Tokarczuk will receive 9 million kronor (about $918,000) at a December 10 ceremony in Stockholm.
Key background: Since 1901, the Swedish Academy has been the official organization to award the Nobel literature prizes. In April 2018, at least 18 sexual misconduct allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, the spouse of a Swedish Academy member, surfaced. At the time, Arnault and his lawyer denied all allegations. The revelations prompted multiple Academy members to resign and forced the postponement of that year’s Nobel literature award. Arnault and his wife co-owned a Swedish cultural institution called The Forum, which had also received funding from the Academy. In December 2018, Arnault was convicted of two counts of rape and sentenced to two years and six months in a Swedish prison.
Tangent: Prior to 2018, World War II was the last time the literature prize was postponed, while 1974 was the last time two authors were honored in the category. And Tokarczuk is the 15th woman to win the literature prize in over a century.
I’m a New York-based journalist covering breaking news at Forbes. I hold a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previous bylines: G