Jon Fosse wins prize

2015 Nordic Council Prize in Literature awarded to Fosse’s Trilogien

Photo: Tom A. Kolstad, courtesy of Samlaget Jon Fosse.

Photo: Tom A. Kolstad, courtesy of Samlaget
Jon Fosse.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

In Reykjavík, Iceland, on the evening of October 27, Norwegian author and playwright Jon Fosse was awarded the 2015 Nordic Council Prize in Literature for Trilogien (Trilogy) comprising three novels: Andvake (Insomnia), Olavs Draumar (Olav’s Dreams), and Kveldsvævd (Early Evening Drowsiness). Instituted in 1962 and awarded annually, the prize is for a work of fiction in one of the languages of the five Nordic countries. The prize carries a monetary award of 350,000 Danish Kroner ($51,650). Of the ten Norwegian writers who have been awarded the prize, Fosse is the third to write in Nynorsk; the other two are Kjartan Fløgstad (for Dalen Portland, 1978) and Tarjei Vesaas (for Is-slottet, 1964).

The Nordic Council’s synopsis of Trilogien explains the rationale of the award. A brief extract of it is a teaser for reading:

Trilogien (The Trilogy) brings together three stories about a young couple, Asle and Alida. In the first book, Andvake, the couple are making their way through a Bergen shrouded in historical fog to find somewhere for Alida to feed their child. The time is far from clear: we soon seem to be in the nineteenth century, and soon after the traditions and customs of the Middle Ages resound through Bergen’s streets. An accident? Or a crime that changes the course of history? It is not until the second book, Olavs draumar, that we see the full consequences for the couple and their newborn son. In the trilogy’s final book, Kveldsvævd, we meet Alida once more as she tries to build a new life, and through their descendants we find out more about what happened to Alida, Asle, and their child.”

The Trilogy is “rich in literary and cultural historical references. Andvake relates to the evangelical story of the parents with no accommodation for either themselves or their children. Olavs draumar plays directly on Christian vision poetry, and specifically the medieval Norwegian ballad Draumkvedet (The Dream Ballad). Kveldsvævd lays the story to rest with implicit reference to Christian mysticism.”


That brief extract reveals in-depth knowledgeable reflection. Fosse holds an MA in literary theory from the University of Bergen. He has been a journalist, creative writing teacher, dramatist, and translator of plays. He was one of the literary consultants for Bibel 2011, a translation of the Bible into Norwegian published in 2011. After renouncing membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway of his childhood, he took part in a Quaker congregation in Bergen and then in 2013 joined the Catholic Church.

In 1983 Fosse made his debut as a novelist with Raud, svart (Red, Black), and in 1993 he made his debut as a playwright with Og aldri skal vi skiljast (And We’ll Never be Parted). To date he has published 16 prose works, 10 collections of poetry, two essay collections, and nine children’s books. His works have been translated into more than 40 languages. Worldwide there have been more than 1,000 productions of his plays, and he now ranks as the most produced contemporary playwright in Europe.

Cecilie Seiness, an editor at Samlaget, the leading Nynorsk publisher, wrote the definitive biography of Fosse published in 2009 on the occasion of his 50th birthday. She reckons that his cultural ascendancy may be attributed to a combination of his genius and a favorable milieu for writers in Norway. “Fosse is a good example of the success of the governmental schemes supporting literature. He sold few books in the 1980s. Initially nothing indicated that he would become a world-renowned dramatist and author. He most likely would have written regardless. Then, too, Samlaget recognized his talent and let him write for years before anything significant happened.”

That policy paid off. In 2007 The Daily Telegraph of London ranked Fosse 83rd on a list of the top 100 living geniuses. In 2010 he received the International Ibsen Award that recognizes new dimensions in theatre. In 2014 he received the European Prize for Literature, a Europe-wide prize awarded by the City of Strasbourg, France.

Today Fosse lives in Grotten (The Grotto), an early 19th-century house on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo that since 1922 has been the Norwegian state honorary residence for artists. He is the fourth artist so honored. Grotten was designed by poet Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) jointly with palace architect Hans Ditlev Linstow (1787-1851). Wergeland, the first resident of the house, was one of the pioneers of the Norwegian literary tradition. Litteraturhuset (“The Literature House”), a node in the city’s cultural network, is a block north across the street. Oslo’s largest bookshops and two of Norway’s three national theatres are a few minutes’ walk away. It’s suitable home turf for an internationally significant contemporary playwright and novelist.

The book: Trilogien: Andvake (2007), Olavs Draumar (2012), Kveldsvævd (2014) in one volume Oslo, Samlaget, 238 pages, hardcover (2014) and paperback (2015) (in Nynorsk). English translation [The Trilogy (Insomnia, Olav’s Dreams, and Early Evening Drowsiness)] to be published in the U.S. April 2016 by Dalkey Archive Press.

The writer: Jon Fosse, Poet på Guds jord (Jon Fosse, Poet on God’s Earth), biography by Cecilie N. Seiness, Oslo, Samlaget 2009, 344 pages hardcover (in Nynorsk).

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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