Peter Handke

Peter Handke (German pronunciation: [ˈhantkə]; born 6 December 1942) is an Austrian-born Nobel laureate novelist, playwright, translator, poet, film director and screenwriter. The Nobel Prize in Literature 2019 was awarded to Peter Handke "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience."[1]

Peter Handke
Handke in 2006
Born (1942-12-06) 6 December 1942
Griffen, Austria
  • Novelist
  • Playwright
ResidenceChaville, France
EducationUniversity of Graz
Notable works
Notable awards


In the late 1960s, he was recognized for works such as the play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) and the novel Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick). Prompted by his mother's suicide in 1971, he reflected her life in the novel Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams).

Handke was a member of the Grazer Gruppe (an association of authors) and the Grazer Autorenversammlung, and co-founded the Verlag der Autoren publishing house in Frankfurt. He collaborated with director Wim Wenders, leading to screenplays such as Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire).

Handke has received many other awards, including the 1973 Georg Büchner Prize, the 1987 Vilenica International Literary Prize, and the 2018 Austrian Nestroy Theatre Prize for Lifetime Achievement.


Early life and family

Handke was born in 1942 in Griffen in the Austrian state of Carinthia.[2] His father, Erich Schönemann, was a bank clerk and German soldier whom Handke did not meet until adulthood. His mother Maria, a Carinthian Slovene, married Bruno Handke, a tram conductor and Wehrmacht soldier from Berlin, before Peter was born.[3] The family lived in the Soviet-occupied Pankow district of Berlin from 1944 to 1948, where Maria Handke had two more children: Peter's half-sister and half-brother. Then the family moved to his mother's home town of Griffen. Peter experienced his stepfather as more and more violent due to alcoholism.[3]

In 1954, Handke was sent to the Catholic Marianum boys' boarding school at Tanzenberg Castle in Sankt Veit an der Glan. There, he published his first writing in the school newspaper, Fackel.[3] In 1959, he moved to Klagenfurt, where he went to high school, and commenced law studies at the University of Graz in 1961.[2]

Handke's mother took her own life in 1971, reflected in his novel Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams).[2][4]

After leaving Graz, Handke lived in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Kronberg, Paris, the U.S. (1978 to 1979) and Salzburg (1979 to 1988).[5] Since 1990, he has resided in Chaville near Paris.[6] He is the subject of the documentary film Peter Handke: In the Woods, Might Be Late (2016), directed by Corinna Belz.[7] Since 2012, Handke has been a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.[8] He is a member of the Serbian Orthodox church.[9][10]

As of early November 2019, there is an official investigation by the relevant authorities on whether Handke may have automatically lost his Austrian citizenship upon obtaining a Yugoslav passport and nationality in the late 1990s.[11]


While studying, Handke established himself as a writer, linking up with the Grazer Gruppe (the Graz Authors' Assembly), an association of young writers.[5] The group published a magazine on literature, manuskripte, which published Handke's early works.[2] Group members included Wolfgang Bauer and Barbara Frischmuth.[12]

Handke abandoned his studies in 1965,[2] after the German publishing house Suhrkamp Verlag accepted his novel Die Hornissen (The Hornets) for publication.[13] He gained international attention after an appearance at a meeting of avant-garde artists belonging to the Gruppe 47 in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1966.[14] The same year, his play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) premiered at the Theater am Turm in Frankfurt, directed by Claus Peymann,[13] and caused a sensation.[14] Handke became one of the co-founders of the publishing house Verlag der Autoren in 1969 with a new commercial concept, as it belonged to the authors.[15] He co-founded the Grazer Autorenversammlung in 1973[16] and was a member until 1977.[5]

Handke's first play, Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience), which premiered in Frankfurt in 1966 and made him well known,[14] was the first of several experimental plays without a conventional plot.[2] In his second play, Kaspar, he treated the story of Kaspar Hauser as "an allegory of conformist social pressures".[14]

Handke has written several scripts for films.[5] He directed Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-Handed Woman), which was released in 1978. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide's description of the film is that a woman demands that her husband leave and he complies. "Time passes... and the audience falls asleep." The film was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978 and won the Gold Award for German Arthouse Cinema in 1980. Handke also won the 1975 German Film Award in Gold for his screenplay for Falsche Bewegung (The Wrong Move). He collaborated with director Wim Wenders in writing the screenplay for the 1987 film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), including the poem at its opening. Since 1975, Handke has been a jury member of the European literary award Petrarca-Preis.[17]

Handke collaborated with director Wim Wenders on a film version of Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter, wrote the script for Falsche Bewegung (The Wrong Move) and co-wrote the screenplay for Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) and Les Beaux Jours d'Aranjuez (The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez). He also directed films, including adaptations from his novels The Left-Handed Woman after Die linkshändige Frau, and The Absence after Die Abwesenheit.[2][5]


In 1996, Handke's travelogue Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien (published in English as A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia) created controversy, as Handke portrayed Serbia as being among the victims of the Yugoslav Wars. In the same essay, Handke also criticised Western media for misrepresenting the causes and consequences of the war.[18] When Handke was awarded the International Ibsen Award in 2014, it caused some calls for the jury to resign,[19]The decision was condemned by PEN Norway.[20] A group of demonstrators protested against him when he arrived to receive the prize.[21] On the other hand, Jon Fosse, former recipient of the prize, welcomed the decision, saying that Handke was a worthy recipient and deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature.[22]

In 2014, Handke called for the Nobel Prize in Literature to be abolished and dubbed it a "circus".[23][24]

Handke's 2019 Nobel prize win was received mostly negatively in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Croatia and Turkey, resulting in public statements of disapproval from some politicians, academics, actors, journalists and the other media, activists, etc. – due to writer's supposed pro-Serbian[25] attitudes, including support for Slobodan Milošević, even though his eulogy was addressed to Yugoslavia, and Milosevic as its president.[8][24][26] PEN America also had a negative opinion,[24] expressing "deep regret".[27]



Handke has written novels, plays, screenplays, essays and poems, often published by Suhrkamp.[13] Many works were translated to English. His works are held by the German National Library, including:[40]

  • 1966 Die Hornissen (The Hornets), novel
  • 1966 Publikumsbeschimpfung und andere Sprechstücke (Offending the Audience and Other Spoken Plays), play, English version as Offending the Audience and Self-accusation
  • 1967 Kaspar, play, English version also as Kaspar and Other Plays
  • 1970 Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick), novel and screenplay of the 1972 film The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty
  • 1972 Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied (Short Letter, Long Farewell), novel
  • 1972 Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story), semi-autobiographical story
  • 1973 Die Unvernünftigen sterben aus, play
  • 1975 Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung (A Moment of True Feeling), novel
  • 1977 Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-Handed Woman), screenplay after his 1976 novel
  • 1979 Langsame Heimkehr (Slow Homecoming), start of a tetralogy of stories, including Die Lehre der Sainte-Victoire (1980), Über die Dörfer and Kindergeschichte (1981)
  • 1983 Der Chinese des Schmerzes, story
  • 1986 Die Wiederholung (Repetition), novel
  • 1987 Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), screenplay with Wim Wenders
  • 1992 Die Stunde, da wir nichts voneinander wußten (The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other)
  • 1994 Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht. Ein Märchen aus den neuen Zeiten (My Year in the No-Man's-Bay), novel
  • 2002Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos (Crossing the Sierra de Gredos), novel
  • 2008 Die morawische Nacht (The Moravian Night)
  • 2010 Immer noch Sturm (Storm Still), a play about the Slovenian uprising against Hitler in 1945, ISBN 978-3-518-42131-4; first performance: Salzburg Festival 2011

Further reading


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2019".
  2. "Peter Handke".
  3. "Peter Handke / österreichischer Schriftsteller". (in German). Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  4. Curwen, Thomas (5 January 2003). "Choosing against life". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  5. Wenders, Wim. "Peter Handke". Archived from the original on 25 August 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  6. Messie und Messias / Wie wohnt eigentlich der Schriftsteller Peter Handke? Ein Hausbesuch. Süddeutsche Zeitung 8 October 2011
  7. "Peter Handke – Bin im Wald. Kann sein, dass ich mich verspäte..." (in German). Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  8. "Outrage in Bosnia, Kosovo over Peter Handke's Nobel prize win". Al Jazeera. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  9. Ian Traynor: Stand up if you support the Serbs / Austrian writer Peter Handke does, and his pro-Milosevic stance has enraged fellow artists. The Guardian, 21 April 1999
  10. James Smyth: Handke in Another Tempo
  11. "Nobel Prize Winner Handke Admits Having Yugoslav Passport". The Associated Press. AP. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  12. Wakounig, Marija (2018). East Central Europe at a Glance: People - Cultures - Developments. Munster, Germany: LIT Verlag. p. 302. ISBN 9783643910462. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  13. "Peter Handke / österreichischer Schriftsteller". (in German). Suhrkamp Verlag. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  14. Hutchinson, Ben (23 August 2011). "Peter Handke's wilful controversies". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  15. Martin Lüdke: 50 Jahre "Verlag der Autoren" / Mit Enthusiasmus gegründet Deutschlandfunk, 11 March 2019
  16. 40 Jahre Grazer Autorenversammlung ORF 15 June 2013
  17. "Petrarca Preis". (in German). Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  18. Sage, Adam (29 July 2006). "Theatre boss's dismissal splits artistic community". The Times. Archived from the original on 16 February 2017.
  19. Krever at juryen går av, Klassekampen
  20. William Nygaard: - En lettelse om han sa fra seg prisen, Dagbladet, 19 September 2014
  21. NRK. "Raste mot Ibsenpris-vinner". NRK.
  22. | title=Raste mot Ibsenpris-vinner | url= | date=6 December 2012 | accessdate=22 September 2014 | | publisher=Norsk Rikskringkasting | language=no }}
  23. Mitchell, Charlotte (10 October 2019). "Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke win Nobel literature prizes". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  24. "Peter Handke: Critics hit out at Nobel Prize award". BBC. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  25. Meyers großes Taschenlexikon in 25 Vols. 7. Auflage. B.I.-Taschenbuchverlag, Mannheim / Leipzig / Wien / Zürich 1999, Vol 9, ISBN 3-411-11097-X, p. 170.
  26. "Kosovo to boycott Nobel ceremony over Handke's literature prize". Al Jazeera. 8 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  27. "Statement: Deep Regret Over the Choice of Peter Handke for the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature" (Press release). PEN. 10 October 2019. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  28. "Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung - Awards - Georg-Büchner-Preis - Peter Handke". Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  29. "Kaj imata letošnja Nobelova nagrajenca za književnost s Slovenijo?".
  30. "Award Laureates in 2000". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  31. "Green Integer Books - America Awards". Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  32. Handke wird Ehrendoktor der Universität Klagenfurt Wiener Zeitung. 5 Nov 2002. Retrieved 10 Oct 2019
  33. Peter Handke ist bald zweifacher Ehrendoktor Der Standard. 13 June 2003. Retrieved 10 Oct 2019
  34. Künste, Bayerische Akademie der Schönen. "Thomas-Mann-Preis der Hansestadt Lübeck und der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste". Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste (in German). Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  35. "Společnost Franze Kafky - Cena Franze Kafky". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  36. "Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis an Peter Handke -". Der Standard (in German). 8 June 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  37. Controversial writer wins €300,000 Ibsen award Irish Times. 21 March 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2014
  38. Peter Handke erhält Nestroy für sein Lebenswerk Die Presse. 10 October 2018. Retrieved 10 October 2018
  39. Marshall, Alex; Alter, Alexandra (10 October 2019). "Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke Awarded Nobel Prizes in Literature". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  40. "Peter Handke". Katalog der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek (in German). German National Library. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
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