Polish Studies Bulletin

Article / interview


Olga Tokarczuk wins the Nobel Prize

Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. The committee praised her “narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” Austrian author Peter Handke was the winner for 2019.

source: the Swedish Academy | Akademia Szwedzka

Olga Tokarczuk is the fifth author writing in Polish to ever receive the award.

Tokarczuk’s debut book was a collection short stories published under the name of Natasza Borodin. In 1993 her first novel “Podróż ludzi Księgi” [“Journey of the People of the Book”] came out, followed by “E.E” two years later. “Prawiek i inne czasy“ [“Primeval and Other Times”] which was published in 1996 turned out to be her first big success.

Over the years Olga Tokarczuk wrote “Dom dzienny, dom nocny” [“House of Day, House of Night”], “Bieguni” [“Flights”], “Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych “ [“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”], “Księgi Jakubowe” [“The Books of Jacob”]. Tokarczuk brings together realism and poetry in her writing, often focusing on the motive of inner transformation and the search for one’s identity. She uses myths, poetry of dreaming and refers to biblical traditions and fairytale fantasies.

In her 2014 interview for Polish weekly magazine “Tygodnik Powszechny” Tokarczuk said: “Maybe it will sound a bit eccentric in our ever-so-pragmatic times but I have always tried to ensure that my work had some kind of meaning, that it’s constructive, and that it brings at least some goodness to others. Nothing big, but it allows for work to become practice. […] In fact I cannot do anything else but write now and this is a special kind of work, in fact a beloved hobby which has become a job. The best possible option.”

Tokarczuk received a number of awards for her work, including the Kościelski Award, the Nike Literary Award (Nagroda Literacka Nike) in 2007 and 2015, and the Man Booker International Prize in 2018.

The news about the Nobel Prize for Olga Tokarczuk comes as no surprise. The likelihood of Tokarczuk becoming the winner has been debated in the last few years. In the days preceding the announcement world media talked of the possibility of the Nobel Prize for the Polish writer. The major Swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter”  published a large interview with Tokarczuk a week before the award notification.

You may watch the announcement of the winners here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4osurAgmjQ.

The Swedish Academy was in crisis since autumn 2017 as Jean-Claude Arnault, photographer, director and husband of a member of the Swedish Academy, was accused of rape and of leaking the names of Nobel Prize winners.
He was also receiving high donations from the Swedish Academy for his cultural club. Due to the crisis no Nobel Prize in Literature was announced in 2018.

The 2019 Nobel Prize winner was Peter Handke, an Austrian writer, who was awarded "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience."

The cash award is worth 9-million kronor (around 780 000 Euro). The ceremony will take place on 10 December, on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.


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