Austrian novelist wins literature Nobel

Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, a self-described advocate for "the weak" whose forceful defenses of social and political freedom have frequently clashed with conservatives in her native country, has won the Nobel Prize in literature.

In announcing the award in Stockholm on Thursday, the Swedish Academy praised her "musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays" that "reveal the absurdity of society's cliches and their subjugating power."

Jelinek, 57, said in an interview with The Associated Press in Vienna that she would not make the Dec. 10 ceremony in Stockholm because she suffered from "a social phobia."

A handful of other literature recipients have not attended, although rarely by choice. Injuries from a pair of plane crashes kept Ernest Hemingway from going in 1954. Four years later, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak first accepted then was forced by the Soviet government to decline. Jean-Paul Sartre turned down the award in 1964.

The predominantly male Nobel committee made Jelinek the first woman to receive the literature prize since it was given to Wislawa Szymborska of Poland in 1996. Only 10 women have won it in the Nobels' 103-year history.

"They assured me that I received the prize because they value my work, not because I am a woman," Jelinek said Thursday, calling the Nobel "the biggest honor."

Although happy about the prize, she said she "can't stand" the attention that comes with it. With her phone and doorbell constantly ringing, Jelinek said her plans for the coming days were simply "to disappear."

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Edouard Rieben/AP File Photo

A scene from the Swiss premiere of the drama "Ein Sportstueck" (A Piece of Sport) written by Austrian novelist and poet Elfriede Jelinek is performed Sept. 10, 2000, in Bern, Switzerland. Jelinek won the Nobel Prize in literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday in Stockholm.

The Nobel brings her a check for about $1.3 million and a singular chance to reach new readers in the U.S. market, which has become increasingly difficult for translated works. Imre Kertesz, a Hungarian novelist who won the Nobel in 2002, will soon have a book released by Alfred A. Knopf. Gao Xingjian, the 2000 winner, is now published in the United States by HarperCollins.

Jelinek's most famous novel, "The Piano Teacher," was adapted into a 2001 film that starred Isabelle Huppert, although other works such as "Lust" are well-known in German-speaking countries and she is widely translated in French. A few of her books have been released in English by Serpent's Tail, a small, London-based publisher specializing in political and experimental works.

"I've tried to get U.S. publishers interested in her work, and they would say she was too downbeat, or she was too grim and not necessarily the kind of writer they felt they could sell," Serpent's Tail publisher Peter Ayrnot said in an interview from the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, where he says he has already been approached by "three or four" American publishers.

"She's a very innovative writer, both on the level of form and content. This isn't easy fiction and even though she's a Nobel Prize winner, that doesn't necessarily convert into being a best-seller."

In recent years, her plays in Austria have been marred by booing, shouting matches and patrons walking out. She was shunned by some Austrian political leaders, partly because of her vehement opposition to the rise of the rightist Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider, which became part of the ruling coalition in 2000 on a platform criticized as anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner.

Jelinek said she had mixed feelings toward her homeland. "It's a love for Vienna and for a few other places. But I have no patriotism for this country," she told the AP.

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