The Swedish Academy awarded Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, and reaction from the literary community was decidedly mixed.
Polish novelist Tokarczuk (author of Flights and the cheerfully titled Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead) was belatedly named the winner of the 2018 prize (which was postponed last year due to a scandal) “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
Austrian author Handke (Across, The Moravian Night) took home the 2019 prize “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”
While Tokarczuk’s win was greeted with enthusiasm by literary observers, the selection of Handke raised some eyebrows. Handke has faced criticism for his comments defending the late Serbian politician Slobodan Milošević, who died while on trial for war crimes. Handke also appeared at Milošević’s funeral.
“The Nobel Prize in Literature was given to one pro-fascism author and one anti-fascism one,” commented journalist Jacob Shamsian on Twitter. “I can't believe this.”
The Nobel Prize in Literature was given to one pro-fascism author and one anti-fascism one. I can't believe this. https://t.co/Wb4zbNK5mt— Jacob Shamsian (@JayShams) October 10, 2019
Writer Molly McKew tweeted, “The Nobel committee decides to dig itself out of scandal by awarding this year's Nobel prize in literature to an Austrian defender of Milosevic who denies that the Srebrenica massacre happened.”
The Nobel committee decides to dig itself out of scandal by awarding this year's Nobel prize in literature to an Austrian defender of Milosevic who denies that the Srebrenica massacre happened.— Molly McKew (@MollyMcKew) October 10, 2019
Way to read the times, Nobel committee 🙄https://t.co/laYvRWUt0w
Author Aleksandar Hemon referenced another recent Nobelist, tweeting, “Peter Handke is the Bob Dylan of genocide deniers.”
New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff might have summed up the reaction from literary Twitter best. “Now to take a big sip of coffee from my ‘Nobel Committee Puts Past Controversies Behind It’ mug and read today’s headlines,” he tweeted.
Now to take a big sip of coffee from my “Nobel Committee Puts Past Controversies Behind It” mug and read today’s headlines— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) October 10, 2019
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday, and we can all rest easy knowing there is no way that could possibly go wrong.
Michael Schaub is an Austin, Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.