By Simon Johnson and Niklas Pollard
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Austrian writer Peter Handke won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday and the 2018 award went to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, the Swedish Academy said on Thursday.
Handke, 76, was recognised for a body of work which includes novels, essays, notebooks and drama and “that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,” the Academy said in a statement.
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 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.
Two prizes were awarded this year after last year’s award was postponed over a scandal that led to the husband of an Academy member being convicted of rape.
Since then, the organisation has appointed new members and reformed some of its more arcane rules after a rare intervention by its royal patron, the king of Sweden.
Academy member Anders Olsson said both Handke and Tokarczuk had accepted their prizes.
“I only talked to Peter Handke myself. He was very, very moved. At first he did not utter any words,” Olsson said.
He added: “It is not a political prize, it is a literary prize.”
Handke established himself as one of the most influential writers in Europe after World War Two, the Academy said. He also co-wrote the script of the critically-acclaimed 1987 film “Wings of Desire”.
The author of books such as “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” and “Slow Homecoming”, he attracted widespread criticism attending the funeral of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2006.
British writer Salman Rushdie once criticised him for “a series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic”.
Tokarczuk trained as a psychologist before publishing her first novel in 1993. Since then, she has produced a steady and varied stream of works and her novel “Flight” won her the high-profile Man Booker International Prize last year. She was the first Polish author to do so.
Though some of the episodes she has written about contrast with version of history promoted by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS), her agent said the award should not be seen in the context of a parliamentary election being held on Sunday in Poland.
Speaking on Polish television, Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, said the award to Tokarczuk was a success for Polish culture.
“I think that Mrs Tokarczuk also perceives this that way, because she is a representative of Polish culture and Polish literature,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Johannes Hellstrom, Johan Ahlander, Helena Soderpalm and Colm Fulton in Stockholm; Alan Charlish, Anna Koper in Warsaw; Michael Shields in Vienna; Editing by Timothy Heritage)