STOCKHOLM (CN) – A Polish novelist and an Austrian writer were awarded Noble Prizes for literature Thursday, a rare double award that came after no prize was given last year due to sex abuse allegations in the organization that decides the winners.
The unusual announcement of two winners was made before a packed room at the Stockholm headquarters of Swedish Academy, the cultural group that grants the awards. Last year, accusations of sexual assault linked to the award committee resulted in no prize being given.
Olga Tokarczuk is a Polish national who has written several novels, poetry collections and other works of prose. Her 2003 novel “Flights” won the Man Booker Prize in 2018. Her 2018 Nobel Prize was awarded “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” the academy said.
Austrian author and playwright Peter Handke won the 2019 Nobel Prize “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” He has generated controversy for his political views. In particular, he was widely criticized for giving a speech at the funeral of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milošević, who died while on trial for war crimes.
Thursday was the second time in the Nobel Prize’s 118-year history that two awards were given. In 1974, the prize was split between two writers, but Thursday’s prizes were for two different years.
Both writers each received a medallion, diploma and 9 million Swedish krona, or about $914,000.
The Noble Prize for literature is awarded to an author from any country who has produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction,” according to Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who established the prizes.
Last year was the first time a prize wasn’t award since World War II. Following sexual assault allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of former Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson, seven committee members quit and the academy opted to postpone the 2018 prize until new members were placed on the committee.
Arnault was later convicted of rape. Frostenson herself was found to have leaked names of winners in advance and she stepped down.