As Peter Handke's Nobel Prize for Literature 2019 win triggers row, PEN America condemns Swedish Academy's decision

The Swedish Academy in Stockholm on Thursday, 10 October 2019, announced that the Nobel Prize(s) for Literature for 2018 and 2019 were being awarded to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian writer Peter Handke, respectively.

The Academy's statement noted that 2019 Literature Laureate Handke's "influential work with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and specificity of human experience."

However, the announcement of Handke's win was met with a backlash from the European literary community.

 As Peter Handkes Nobel Prize for Literature 2019 win triggers row, PEN America condemns Swedish Academys decision

Peter Handke. Photo via Facebook/@ROLOFFPETERHANDKEPAGE

As noted by a report in The Washington Post, Handke, 76, has "long faced criticism for his vigorous defense of the Serbs during the 1990s wars that devastated the Balkans as Yugoslavia disintegrated. He spoke at the 2006 funeral of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who at the time was facing war crimes charges, calling him 'a rather tragic man'."

Even as leading literary figures such as Salman Rushdie and Hari Kunzru, among others, questioned the Academy's choice of Handke, the American chapter of PEN, the global organisation of writers, released a statement expressing their 'rejection' of Handke as the 2019 Nobel Laureate.

The entire statement released by PEN American can be read here:

PEN America does not generally comment on other institutions’ literary awards. We recognise that these decisions are subjective and that the criteria are not uniform. However, the announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature to Peter Handke must be an exception.

We are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

PEN America has been committed since the passage our 1948 PEN Charter to fighting against mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts. Our Charter further commits us to work to “dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality.”

We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’

At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.

It must be noted that Thursday's Nobel announcements came in the wake of a controversy-ridden couple of years for the Swedish Academy, which had to suspend the 2018 Nobel for Literature.

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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2019 10:46:57 IST