Austrian writer Peter Handke won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was named as the 2018 winner after a sexual assault scandal led to last year’s award being postponed.
The Swedish Academy which chooses the literature laureate said it had recognized Handke, 76, for a body of work including novels, essays and drama “that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”
Tokarczuk, 57, won for “a narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” it said.
Both have courted controversy – Handke for his portrayal of Serbia as a victim during the Balkan wars and for attending its leader’s funeral, and Tokarczuk for touching on dark areas of Poland’s past that contrast with the version of history promoted by the country’s ruling nationalist party.
While Tokarczuk’s agent said the award should not be seen in the context of a parliamentary election Poland will hold on Sunday, the author called on Poles to “vote in a right way for democracy.”
“The prize goes to eastern Europe, which is unusual, incredible,” Tokarczuk told a press conference in the German town of Bielefeld.
“It shows that despite all those problems with democracy in my country we still have something to say to the world.”
On winning a Polish literary award in 2015 for “The Book of Jacob”, which deals with Poland’s relations with its Jewish minority and neighboring Ukraine, she outraged nationalists with her comments and received death threats.
Two prizes were awarded this year after last year’s award was postponed over the scandal that led to the husband of an Academy member being convicted of rape.
Since then, the organization has appointed new members and reformed some of its more arcane rules after a rare intervention by its royal patron, the king of Sweden.
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