Nobel Prize-winning author Peter Handke, who in October vowed never to speak to the press again, spoke to the press again.
The Austrian novelist answered questions—kind of—from reporters at a Friday press conference, one day before his inaugural lecture to the Swedish Academy. Handke’s win has proved controversial, with critics noting that the author has in the past spoken in defense of Slobodan Milošević, the late Serbian president who died in 2006 while on trial for war crimes.
The Guardian reports that Handke was asked at the press conference about the controversy surrounding his win, and replied, “This is a very long story. To tell this story here, I think it’s not the moment.” (This came after what the Guardian describes as “an awkward moment during which the room was induced to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the author.”)
Then things got weird. Peter Maass, a reporter for The Intercept, asked Handke whether he believed that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre—in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb and Serbian soldiers—had actually happened.
Maass said that Handke then “became combative and insulting,” and recounted being sent a letter from a detractor that included used toilet paper. “I tell you, I prefer the anonymous letter with toilet paper inside to your empty and ignorant questions,” Handke told the reporter.
After Maass attempted to ask another question, Handke dismissed him, saying, “I don’t want to answer you.”
Handke, and his fellow literature Nobel winner, Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, will receive the Nobel Prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on Tuesday.
Michael Schaub is an Austin, Texas–based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.