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Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse wins the 2023 Nobel Prize in literature

Jon Fosse has won the 2023 Nobel Prize in literature, "for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable."

The 64-year-old playwright is not well-known outside his home country of Norway, where he was born on the western coast in the city of Haugesund. But the author is internationally celebrated in literary circles and has been called "the most produced living playwright." He has won prestigious European awards and has long been fully subsidized by the Norway government, with a lifetime stipend and a residence near the Royal Palace in Oslo. In 2007 he was made a Knight in France's National Order of Merit.

In its citation, the Nobel committee wrote, "His immense oeuvre, written in Norwegian Nynorsk and spanning a variety of genres consists of a wealth of plays, novels, poetry collections, essays, children's books and translations. While he is today one of the most widely performed playwrights in the world, he has also become increasingly recognised for his prose."

The author has often been called "the new Henrik Ibsen," and Samuel Beckett was evoked by the chairman of the Nobel committee as he discussed Fosse's "artistry in the wake of modernism" during his announcement. But Damion Searls made a different comparison in a 2015 essay in The Paris Review.

"Think of the four elder statesmen of Norwegian letters as a bit like the Beatles," he wrote. "Per Petterson is the solid, always dependable Ringo; Dag Solstad is John, the experimentalist, the ideas man; Karl Ove Knausgaard is Paul, the cute one; and Fosse is George, the quiet one, mystical, spiritual, probably the best craftsman of them all."

The playwright began as a novelist, and did not break through as a theater writer until he was in his 40s. His international reputation as a playwright was sealed in 1998, with a Paris production of his first play Nokon kjem til å komme (in English, Someone Is Going to Come), which had been written in 1992. Since then, his work has been performed in more than 60 countries around the world, according to his translator, Ann Henning Jocelyn.

The Nobel Committee has been criticized for its focus on European and Anglo writers. In the past 20 years, only five writers of color have been awarded the literature prize. Last year's award went to French writer Annie Ernaux, now 83.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.