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The 2023 Nobel Prize in literature goes to Norwegian writer Jon Fosse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded to the Norwegian playwright, author and poet Jon Fosse. The committee said the honor was for, quote, "his innovative plays and prose, which give voice to the unsayable." NPR's Andrew Limbong is with us now to tell us more. Hi, Andrew.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So tell us about Fosse.

LIMBONG: So, yeah, like you said, he's a Norwegian writer. He's written novels and poems, essays and even some stuff for kids. But it was his work as a playwright that the Nobel Committee really focused in on at the announcement this morning. He's written about, like, 40 plays, and he was really prolific on that front from the '90s through the early 2000. His plays lean more towards, like, the modernist experimental type of stuff. He gets compared to, like, Samuel Beckett a lot in that respect. But Fosse's plays, you know, a lot - and a lot of his works are really interested in spiritual concerns. I've got some tape here from Anders Olsson, the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature. And here's what he said about Fosse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERS OLSSON: It is through his ability to evoke man's loss of orientation and how this, paradoxically, can provide access to a deeper experience close to divinity.

FADEL: So sometimes this award goes to someone super well known in the U.S. I'm thinking people like Bob Dylan. Other times it's someone not well known. Where's Fosse on that spectrum?

LIMBONG: You know, I think he's somewhere in between. He's a huge name - right? - in the theater scene in Europe, and he's been one for, like, decades. And his work has been translated into dozens of languages. But, you know, his theater work wasn't produced in the U.S. until, like, 2004. He's got a number of international awards on his shelf. You know, he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice. But here in the U.S., he isn't really well known outside of, like, mega literature fans, but he has gotten some props from the lit community. Last year his book "Septology" was a finalist for the National Book Award for translated literature. It's one of those big long, epic books, right? It's, like, seven volumes, and it's about an old man coming to terms with, like, God and his life. And it's written in this stream of consciousness way, you know, a style of writing that's really dependent on, like, the rhythm of the language and how it flows. And at the reading ceremony, he read really quickly in his native Norwegian. But here's the book's translator, Damion Searls, reading the English version, where I think you get a sense of that.

DAMION SEARLS: (Reading) Then I hear Bragi bark. Mustn't forget the dog, Asleik says. Yes, Bragi, he says. That would have been bad, I say, and I go open the back door of the car, and Bragi hops out, and I slam the door shut, and then I go over to the boat, and Bragi follows me, and he looks scared of the boat, and then I pick him up and hand him to Asleik, and Bragi whines and whimpers and whines, and Asleik takes him and puts him down on the deck, and Bragi lies right down, and then he's lying there, shivering and looking up at me with his scared dog's eyes.

LIMBONG: And you can hear from, like, the repetition of that language - you know, Bragi, the dog and all that methodical movement of the action - a sense of his writing style.

FADEL: So a Nobel Prize - does that mean he's going to be more widely read here in the U.S.?

LIMBONG: Oh, I mean, probably. I mean, just - like, just anecdotally, even before this announcement, I've seen "Septology" take up, you know, a really prominent space at the bookshelves at the local bookstores. It's one of those, like, big books that you can kind of, like, brag about reading. So I suspect that Nobel sticker on it will lead to more people reading him and probably some more of his plays being produced here in the States.

FADEL: NPR's Andrew Limbong. Thanks, Andrew.

LIMBONG: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.