Austrian writer Peter Handke, who helped pen the screenplay for Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, one of whose novels was adapted into the Berlinale film “Spoor,” have been named winners of the Nobel Prize for literature.
Handke was awarded the prize for 2019, and Tokarczuk was retroactively named as the winner for 2018. The Nobel for literature was not given out last year because of a sexual assault scandal that engulfed the prize committee.
The announcement of the award winners Thursday came after the body that gives out the literature prize, the Swedish Academy, pledged to be more proactive in considering writers from other parts of the world amid longtime accusations of European and Anglophone bias. Both Tokarczuk and Handke, however, are Europeans.
Tokarczuk, 57, was considered a strong contender for the prize. Her novel “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” was widely acclaimed, recently making the Guardian newspaper’s list of top 100 books so far this century. A philosophically minded murder mystery about the violent deaths of hunters in a small Polish village, it was made into the film “Spoor,” by Agnieszka Holland, which played in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017.
Tokarczuk’s novel “Flights” won the International Booker Prize last year.
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Handke, 76, is a more surprising choice by the Swedish Academy – and an ironic one, given that he reportedly once told an Austrian newspaper that “the Nobel prize should finally be abolished.” Apart from that, he courted controversy by giving a speech at the funeral of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2006.
He is the author of books, short stories and radio and stage plays, many of which are experimental in form. Along with Wenders, he wrote the classic 1987 film “Wings of Desire,” which was remade later in the U.S. as “City of Angels,” with Nicolas Cage. Handke has also written and directed his own films in German, including “The Left-Handed Woman” from 1978, which starred Bruno Ganz.