The Nobel Prize in Literature today was awarded to two authors — one for 2018 and the other for 2019 — and it turns out that both are affiliated with Northwestern University.
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, author of NU Press’s “House of Day, House of Night,” won the postponed 2018 Nobel Prize for literature. Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke, author of NU Press’s “Crossing the Sierra de Gredos,” won the 2019 award.
In conferring the award, the Nobel committee praised Tokarczuk "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life." NU Press published the English translation of her novel “House of Day, House of Night” in 2003, making it one of the first of Tokarczuk’s novels available in English.
The committee cited Handke, known for his postmodern, experimental style, "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience." NU Press published the English translation of his “Crossing the Sierra de Gredos” in 2009, praised by American playwright and author Sam Shepard writing in Vanity Fair as “writing that resounds with the undeniable sense that a writer's life hangs in the balance."
The original works were penned in Polish and German respectively, and NU Press published the works in English translation, greatly expanding the reach of these acclaimed authors to a North American and global anglophone readership.
Tokarczuk’s novel “Flights” was translated into English by Northwestern alumna Jennifer Croft, who earned her PhD in comparative literary studies in 2010.
Croft told PRI’s The World that she was not surprised to learn of Tokarczuk’s win.
“I think a lot of her thematic concerns are really in line with the values of the Nobel Committee,” Croft said. “She's always been really committed to celebrating women's voices and she has always loved nature. [She's] been an environmentalist, and lately she's also been really interested in things like borders — what it means to have a particular nationality and how fluid those kinds of identities might really be. And then, stylistically, she's so appealing. She just has such a beautiful lyrical prose style.”
NU Press has a decades-long tradition of publishing both original scholarship, particularly philosophy, as well as literary fiction in translation. Its author Herta Muller, author of “Traveling on One Leg” was also recognized with the world’s premier literature award in 2009, making this year’s awards the press’s second and third affiliation with the Nobel.