Jon Fosse, Celebrated Norwegian Proponent of Minimalist Nordic Literature, Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

by Joshua Brown
Nobel Prize in Literature

Jon Fosse, the Norwegian author renowned for his sparse, elemental prose that delves into life’s profound themes such as birth, death, and faith, was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature this Thursday. The award committee highlighted that his writing provides a “medium for the inexpressible.”

The author and dramatist commented that the accolade serves as an acknowledgment of “literature that is, above all, committed to being literature, without external preoccupations.” This guiding principle is manifested in his extensive and often enigmatic body of work, which includes a seven-volume opus composed entirely of a single sentence.

According to Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel Literature Committee, Fosse’s oeuvre, deeply ingrained in his Norwegian heritage, concentrates on “the human condition, grappling with the uncertainties and anxieties that are fundamental to our existence.”

Fosse, one of Norway’s most frequently staged playwrights, noted that he had been “gradually bracing” himself for the last ten years to potentially receive the distinguished award.


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“When the call came, I was both surprised and unsurprised,” the 64-year-old disclosed in an interview with Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. “Receiving that call was a moment of immense joy for me.”


The Swedish Academy, which confers the prize, honored Fosse for his “groundbreaking dramas and narratives that articulate the inexpressible.” Fosse has authored 40 plays, as well as novels, short stories, children’s literature, poetry, and essays. He cites Samuel Beckett, the 1969 Nobel laureate in literature, as an influential figure in shaping his minimalist style.

Fosse has not only been a writer but also an educator in the field of writing. Among his pupils was best-selling Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. Furthermore, he has consulted on the Norwegian translation of the Bible.

Guy Puzey, a senior lecturer in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, noted, “Fosse employs a restrained writing style, often repeating uncomplicated phrases, which subsequently acquire profound implications, prompting contemplation of the subtext.”


Fosse is the first Norwegian laureate in nearly a century to write in Nynorsk, one of Norway’s two official written languages. Though Nynorsk is used by merely 10% of Norway’s 5.4 million populace, it is fully comprehensible to speakers of the other official language, Bokmaal.

While Bokmaal is considered “the language of authority and urban centers,” Nynorsk is predominantly employed in rural areas of western Norway, said Puzey. “This marks a significant moment for a minority language.”

Lubna Jaffery, Norway’s Minister of Culture, deemed it “a historic day for Nynorsk language and literature,” noting that nearly a century has passed since a Norwegian author was last honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Fosse’s first novel, “Red, Black,” was published in 1983, and his inaugural play, “Someone is Going to Come,” debuted in 1992. His magnum opus, “A New Name: Septology VI-VII,” described by Olsson as a tour de force, was a finalist for the International Booker Prize in 2022. This seven-volume work is devoid of sentence breaks.

His additional major works include the prose titles “Melancholy,” “Morning and Evening,” “Wakefulness,” and “Olav’s Dreams,” as well as plays like “The Name,” “Dream of Autumn,” and “I am the Wind.”


Mats Malm, the permanent secretary of the academy, informed Fosse of his victory via a phone call. Fosse, who resides in Bergen, was driving in rural areas at the time and committed to returning home cautiously.

“I find myself somewhat stunned but unquestionably delighted for the immense honor,” Fosse informed TV2.


While Fosse’s work has been translated into numerous languages and his plays have been produced globally, he remains a name largely confined to specialized literary communities. Critics have often claimed that the prize tends to favor European and North American authors of highbrow, narrative-sparse literature. Only 17 women have been among the 119 laureates, a matter of ongoing debate.

The Nobel Prize, established by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, includes a monetary award of 11 million Swedish kronor (approximately $1 million), an 18-carat gold medal, and a diploma, all of which are presented during December’s award ceremonies.

Reported by Corder from The Hague, Netherlands, and Lawless from London. Contributions from Jan M. Olsen of Big Big News in Copenhagen.

For comprehensive coverage on Nobel Prizes, visit https://bigbignews.net/nobel-prizes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Nobel Prize in Literature

Who is Jon Fosse?

Jon Fosse is a renowned Norwegian writer and playwright known for his minimalist and existential approach to literature. He has been honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature for his extensive body of work that delves into life’s profound themes such as birth, death, and faith.

What is he famous for?

Jon Fosse is famous for his sparse, elemental prose that explores the complexities of human existence. His works include plays, novels, short stories, children’s books, and essays. He has also been a teacher and has contributed to the Norwegian translation of the Bible.

Why did Jon Fosse win the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Fosse was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his innovative and groundbreaking dramas and narratives, which the Swedish Academy said articulate the inexpressible. His works provide a medium for themes often considered too profound or complex to be easily articulated.

What language does Jon Fosse write in?

Jon Fosse writes in Nynorsk, one of the two official written languages of Norway. He is the first Norwegian laureate in nearly a century to write in this language.

What is significant about him winning the prize for Nynorsk language and literature?

The Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to Fosse marks a historic moment for the Nynorsk language, which is a minority language in Norway. It is a notable recognition not just for Fosse but also for Nynorsk literature and language, which is predominantly used in rural areas of western Norway.

What is the monetary value of the Nobel Prize in Literature?

The Nobel Prize includes a monetary award of 11 million Swedish kronor, which is approximately 1 million US dollars. Winners also receive an 18-carat gold medal and a diploma.

How did Jon Fosse react to winning the prize?

Upon receiving a phone call informing him of the win, Fosse expressed a mixture of surprise and a sense of preparedness. He described himself as somewhat stunned but unquestionably delighted for the immense honor.

Have there been criticisms of the Nobel Prize in Literature’s selection process?

Yes, there have been criticisms suggesting that the Nobel Prize in Literature has a bias towards European and North American authors, and that it often favors highbrow, narrative-sparse literature. Additionally, only 17 women have been among the 119 laureates, a matter that has been a subject of ongoing debate.

Who were the previous Norwegian Nobel laureates in Literature?

The previous Norwegian laureates are Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who won the prize in 1903, Knut Hamsun, who was awarded in 1920, and Sigrid Undset, who received it in 1928.

Where can one find comprehensive coverage on Nobel Prizes?

For a complete overview and ongoing coverage on the Nobel Prizes, one can visit the Big Big News website at https://bigbignews.net/nobel-prizes.

More about Nobel Prize in Literature

  • Nobel Prize Official Website
  • The Swedish Academy
  • Biography of Jon Fosse
  • Overview of Nynorsk Language
  • Previous Norwegian Nobel Laureates in Literature
  • Big Big News Coverage on Nobel Prizes
  • Language Council of Norway
  • Works of Jon Fosse
  • Criticisms of Nobel Prize in Literature Selection Process

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GrammarGuru October 5, 2023 - 6:35 pm

kinda surprised to hear that Fosse was “prepared” for this. Isn’t it supposed to be a total surprise?

MoneyMatters October 5, 2023 - 9:52 pm

1 million bucks and a gold medal? Not bad, not bad at all.

NorwegianFan October 6, 2023 - 1:24 am

Finally! after nearly a century, another Nobel for Norway. And in Nynorsk to boot. Historic day indeed.

PlaywrightPaul October 6, 2023 - 2:09 am

Been following Fosse’s plays for years. The guy’s a genius, totally deserved the win.

LiteraryLinda October 6, 2023 - 2:21 am

If his work is comparable to Beckett’s, I’m in. Time to hit the bookstore!

SarahM October 6, 2023 - 3:35 am

Wow, a Nobel Prize for someone who writes in Nynorsk? That’s a big deal for such a minority language, super cool!

DoubtfulDave October 6, 2023 - 5:35 am

not sure if Fosse’s work is my cup of tea. Seems a bit too highbrow for my taste.

CulturalConnie October 6, 2023 - 6:42 am

So Fosse also contributed to a Bible translation? Man of many talents, it seems.

PoliticalPete October 6, 2023 - 10:23 am

Interesting how the Nobel keeps facing criticism for being too Euro-centric. Wonder if they’re gonna diversify more.

BookLover101 October 6, 2023 - 2:15 pm

This Fosse guy seems deep. Anyone read his 7-volume epic? Is it as intense as they say?


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