With a prolific body of work encompassing over seventy novels, poems, children’s books, essays, and theatrical plays, Jon Fosse is a luminary of contemporary literature who also stands as one of the most performed playwrights of his generation. Born in Haugesund, Norway, in 1959, his pioneering contributions culminated in the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2023, where he was honored “for his innovative plays and prose, which give voice to the unsayable.”
Fosse’s literary oeuvre is marked by its introspective depth and explorations of identity, isolation, and human existence. His spare prose and hauntingly poetic narratives have transcended cultural boundaries and resonated with readers worldwide, with notable novels like 1995’s Melancholia and 2000’s Morning and Evening translated into over forty languages. In the theatrical world, Fosse is celebrated for blurring the lines between prose and poetry, and pushing the boundaries of traditional dramatic conventions. His plays, such as 1995’s The Name and 1996’s Someone Is Going to Come, have graced stages globally, receiving critical acclaim and prestigious accolades like the International Ibsen Award.
In honor of his second nomination for the International Booker Prize in 2022, Fosse was asked to name some of the books that shaped his life. From the early influence of Austrian Expressionist poet and translator Georg Trakl to the enduring impact of Franz Kafka, explore his reading list below, and check out the recommendations of other iconic writers here.
Jon Fosse’s Reading List
Collected Poems by Olav H. Hauge
“In the village Ulvik, not far from where I grew up, the poet Olav H. Hauge lived. He is considered one of the major Norwegian poets. I read his poetry in my teens, and some of his poems resonated deeply with me. Hauge was born fifty years before me. He became an old man, and in his later years I met with him now and then, and he sent me some hand-written letters. They are now among my most precious belongings.” -JF
Collected Poems by Georg Trakl
“Hauge was a poet, but also a translator. His collected translations of poems from English, German and French have been published over and over again in Norway. I read these translations in my teens. What impressed me the most was his translations of German poetry. Hölderlin, Paul Celan and especially Georg Trakl. When I was quite young, I got hold of Trakel’s Collected Poems in German. They made an everlasting impression on me and perhaps the most impactful was his major collection, Sebastian in Dream. Some years ago, I translated that collection into Norwegian. Trakl’s poetry doesn’t translate that well into English, but his poetry is still available in various English translations.” -JF
“Another writer writing in German around the same time as when Trakl wrote his poetry was Franz Kafka. His most famous, and best novel, is The Trial. I also read this as a young man, and this novel, and the writing of Kafka in general, remains the literature that has impressed me the most. My own translation of The Trial was published in Norway recently. I have also translated a selection of his stories, that may well be the best he wrote. Kafka changed the way we look at the world, and in so doing, changed the world.” -JF
“It is still the books that I read when I was rather young that have made the biggest impact on me, and one of them is The Sound and the Fury. It was a difficult book to read, and I spent a lot of time reading and trying to understand it. In various ways, this novel made an everlasting impression on me, and it is still one of those reading experiences present in me all the time.” -JF
Collected Shorter Plays by Samuel Beckett
“I first saw Beckett’s work written for the stage in a production of three of his shorter plays in Oslo. At that time I hadn’t seen much theatre, and I can remember that evening clearly. From then on, Beckett’s have stayed with me. Of course, I admire his major plays, like Waiting for Godot, but I still think his later, shorter plays are the most impressive.” -JF
“In my early twenties, I read several of the major modernist novelists. And I fell in love with the novels of Virginia Woolf. The first I read was Mrs Dalloway. To me, it felt like she just throws the words out and each and every one fell exactly, precisely, where they should in a graceful movement as the most beautiful literary music you could ask for. My understanding of literature was another after I read this novel.” -JF
The Bible (also rec’d by Brandi Carlile, Carl Sagan, Leonard Cohen, Loretta Lynn, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Mr. Rogers, Nick Cave, Penn Jillette & Vincent van Gogh)
“I cannot possibly make such a list without mentioning The Book of Books, the Bible. A couple of decades ago I was asked to write a new translation of the Bible in Norwegian. To try to get as close to the original texts as possible – often translations of the Bible translate an interpretation of the meaning rather than what is actually written – they wanted to include writers in the translation process that worked closely together with experts. For eleven years I worked on translating the prophets, so I have written through almost the whole Prophetic Literature. This must have influenced my own writing in some way, even if I don’t know it.” -JF
(via The Booker Prizes; photo by Ole Berg-Rusten)
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