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Poland's Olga Tokarczuk and Austria's Peter Handke win Nobel Prize for literature

The 8 million Swedish kronor (about $1.2 million CAD) prize, which has been given out since 1901, recognizes authors who have "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." 
Austrian author Peter Handke, left, was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for literature, while Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was announced as the 2018 Nobel Prize winner. (Reuters/Reuters)

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk  ​​​​​and Austrian writer Peter Handke have won the Nobel Prize for literature.

The 8 million Swedish kronor (about $1.2 million CAD) prize, which has been given out since 1901, recognizes authors who have "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." 

Two prizes were awarded in 2019, as no Nobel Prize for literature was given out in 2018. 

Tokarczuk won the 2018 prize and Handke won the 2019 prize.

The 2018 and 2019 literature awards were chosen by the Swedish Academy's Nobel Committee, a new body made up of four academy members and five "external specialists."

Nobel organizers said the committee suggests two names that then must be approved by the Swedish Academy. 

Olga Tokarczuk, an imaginative writer

Tokarczuk is being recognized "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life."

Tokarczuk, born in 1962, is one of Poland's most popular and successful authors, known for celebrating the cultural diversity of Poland. 

She has won the Nike Literary Award, Polish's most prestigious literary prize, twice, in 2008 and 2015. Her novel Flights, which was translated by Jennifer Croft, won the International Booker Prize in 2018.

Her most recent novel is Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which was a finalist for the 2019 International Booker Prize.

In 2015, she received the International Bridge Prize, A German-Polish Prize that recognizes people dedicated to the promotion of peace and democracy in Europe.

Tokarczuk is only the 15th woman to win the literature prize in more than a century.

She is also the first female Nobel recipient so far in 2019.

The last Polish writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature was poet Wislawa Szymborska in 1996.

Peter Handke, a controversial novelist and filmmaker

Handke is an accomplished novelist, playwright, filmmaker and translator, who has written dozens of works since first being published in 1966.

He is being recognized "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience."

He wrote the experimental 1966 play Offending the Audience and the 1972 novel The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, but may be best known for writing the 1987 novel Wings of Desire.

Handke was born in Austria in 1942. He was raised by a single mother, who committed suicide in 1971. Handke would write about her suicide and reflect on her life in the 1972 novel A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. 

His 1978 film The Left–Handed Woman, which was based on his own novel, was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival. He would go on to direct a second film based on another one of his books, The Absence in 1992, and was heavily involved in the adaptation of Wings of Desire.

He would collaborate with German filmmaker Wes Wenders on four films, The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty (1972), The Wrong Move (1975), Wings of Desire (1987) and The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez (2016). 

Handke has previously won the Franz Kafka Prize in 2006 and the International Ibsen Award in 2014.

Some jury members resigned after Handke won the Ibsen award because of Handke's political views.

Handke produced a travelogue in 1996 that showed sympathy for the Serbs as victims of the Balkan wars.

He famously won the Heinrich Heine Prize in 2006, only to have the prize rescinded. The prize is awarded by the city Duesseldorf, and the city council must vote to approve prize recipient. They did not approve Handke because of his pro-Serbian statements and writings. 

The last Austrian to win the Nobel Prize for literature was Elfriede Jelinek in 2004.

No Nobel Prize awarded in 2018

The prize was cancelled in 2018 after a mass exodus at the Swedish Academy following sex abuse allegations.

Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of a former academy member, was convicted in 2018 for two rapes in 2011.

Arnault allegedly also leaked the name of Nobel Prize for literature winners seven times.

The Nobel Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and activism for peace. (Paramonov Alexand/Shutterstock)

The academy announced on May 4, 2018 that the prize would be not awarded that year "in view of the currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence."

It was the first time since 1943 that the award was not handed out.

In his will, Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel specifically designated the Swedish Academy as the institution responsible for the Nobel Prize for literature.

The winners are always announced in October and the Nobel Prizes are presented on the Dec. 10 anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.

The last recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature was Kazuo Ishiguro in 2017

Two Canadians have won the Nobel Prize for literature: Saul Bellow (a Canadian-born American) in 1976 and Alice Munro in 2013.

Other past winners include American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, Russian historian and essayist Svetlana Alexievich, Irish poet Seamus Heaney and American novelist Toni Morrison.

Two prizes yet to be awarded

The other 2019 Nobel Prize winners include three scientists who discovered how cells use oxygen, three scientists contributed to the development of lithium-ion batteries, Canadian James Peebles "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology," and to Swiss physicists for discovering an exoplanet.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Friday, Oct. 11.

The economics prize will be awarded on Monday, Oct. 14. Officially known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, it wasn't created by Nobel, but by Riksbanken, Sweden's central bank, in 1968.

With files from the Associated Press.

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