Norwegian author and dramatist Jon Fosse has won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature for "his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable." He is the fourth Norwegian author to win the prize, following the novelist Sigrid Undset, who won in 1928.
Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee at the Swedish Academy, the body that administers the prize, said of Fosse that, "in his radical reduction of language and dramatic action, he expresses the most powerful human emotions of anxiety and powerlessness in the simplest everyday terms. It is through this ability to evoke man’s loss of orientation, and how this paradoxically can provide access to a deeper experience close to divinity, that he has come to be regarded as a major innovator in contemporary theater."
Fosse was born in 1959, in Haugesund, on Norway's west coast. "His immense œuvre written in Nynorsk and spanning a variety of genres," Olsson said, "consists of a wealth of plays, novels, poetry collections, essays, children’s books and translations." Fosse's dramatic breakthrough, Olsson continued, came with Claude Régy’s 1999 Paris production of his 1996 play Nokon kjem til å komme (Someone Is Going to Come). He is one of Norway's most-performed dramatists.
Olsson noted that Fosse has referred, in his writing, to the works of Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, and Georg Trakl. "While Fosse shares the negative outlook of his predecessors, his particular gnostic vision cannot be said to result in a nihilistic contempt of the world," Olsson said. "Indeed, there is great warmth and humor in his work, and a naïve vulnerability to his stark images of human experience."
Long primarily known as a playwright, Fosse has become more widely recognized for his prose over the past several years in the wake of the publication of Septology, which Fosse completed in 2021—a work that has helped to increase his popularity among English-language readers. The 1250-page work, which Olsson called Fosse's "magnum opus," takes the form of a monologue in which an elderly artist speaks to himself from the perspective of another person. "The work progresses seemingly endlessly and without sentence breaks, but is formally held together by repetitions, recurring themes and a fixed time span of seven days," Olsson said. "Each of its parts opens with the same phrase and concludes with the same prayer to God."
Septology—which comprises three volumes: The Other Name, I Is Another, and A New Name—is published in the U.S. by Transit Books, in a translation by longtime Fosse translator Damion Searls. A New Name was a finalist for International Booker Prize, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award. Combined, the four volumes have sold just over 6,500 copies to date at outlets that report to Circana BookScan.
Fosse's latest novel, A Shining, will be published in the U.S. by Transit on October 31, as will the paperback edition of the full volume of Septology. Transit copublisher Ashley Nelson Levy told PW in an email that any decisions on going back to press with new print runs of Fosse's books were yet to be decided.
"We couldn't be more thrilled for Fosse, whose work we admired long before we started publishing him," Nelson Levy wrote. "When Adam and I first read his masterwork, Septology, on submission, we both immediately felt that it was unlike anything we'd ever experienced, in its exploration of the human condition and the incantatory rhythm of its prose. We're also thrilled for his translator Damion Searls, who has brought his work to life so beautifully in English."
Fosse's previous novels, Aliss at the Fire, Morning and Evening, Melancholy I, and Melancholy II, were published in the U.S. by the Dalkey Archive, now an imprint of Deep Vellum Publishing. Will Evans, Deep Vellum publisher, offered his congratulations to Fosse and his translators, Searls and May-Brit Akerholt, adding: "It is a tremendous honor to publish so many diverse books through Fosse's remarkable career, and to carry forth the legacy forged at Dalkey Archive Press when Chad Post and John O'Brien signed on to publish Melancholy twenty years ago thanks to Damion Searls's translation submission. This prize is also a huge vindication for independent publishers, including our colleagues in publishing Fosse at Transit Books and Fitzcarraldo Editions, continuing to publish the world's most compelling literature, and to the independent bookstores who carry the torch for writers like Fosse, introducing the world to readers everywhere!"
In the U.K., Fosse is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, making him the fourth Fitzcarraldo author in eight years—after Annie Ernaux (2022), Olga Tokarczuk (2018), and Svetlana Alexievich (2015)—to win the Nobel.
"Everyone at Fitzcarraldo Editions is over the moon that Jon Fosse has won the Nobel Prize in Literature," Fitzcarraldo Editions publisher Jacques Testard told PW in an email. "He's an exceptional novelist, playwright, and poet, whose work is deeply rooted in the landscape of the Western Fjords in Norway, where he grew up. He writes about universal themes—love, death, friendship, grief—in a prose style that is totally idiosyncratic, almost incantatory, deceptively simple but imbued with a remarkable depth of feeling. Reading him is a very powerful experience, both aesthetic and emotional, and I'm delighted that his work will now reach so many more readers."
Testard added that Fitzcarraldo will be reprinting all of its titles by Fosse, which include Septology, Melancholy I–II, Aliss at the Fire, and Scenes from a Childhood. In addition, the publisher has moved the planned November 1 publication date for A Shining forward for immediate release.
Fosse, who received the call from the Nobel Committee while driving along the Sognefjord in the Norwegian countryside, expressed his gratitude in a statement issued by his Norwegian publisher, Samlaget. "I am overwhelmed and grateful," he said. "I see this as an award to the literature that first and foremost aims to be literature, without other considerations."
Unlike last year, when Olsson held a public, livestreamed Q&A session following the announcement of the prize, this year he sat down one-on-one for a two-question interview with just one member of the press. That decision follows what was, last year, a rather rowdy Q&A session (at least for a major literary prize), during which reporters suggested that, in awarding French author Annie Ernaux, the Academy had once again shown a strong preference for European writers. Of the past 10 laureates, eight have been European, and two have been American; two of those laureates, Kazuo Ishiguro (2017) and Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021), are from the U.K., but were born in Japan and Tanzania, respectively.
This story has been updated with new information.