Peter Handke
Handke in 2006
Handke in 2006
Born (1942-12-06) 6 December 1942 (age 81)
Griffen, Austria
  • Novelist
  • Playwright
EducationUniversity of Graz
Notable works
Notable awards
SpouseSophie Semin (since 1995)[citation needed]

Peter Handke (German pronunciation: [ˈpeːtɐ ˈhantkə]; born 6 December 1942) is an Austrian novelist, playwright, translator, poet, film director, and screenwriter. He was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience."[1] Handke is considered to be one of the most influential and original German-language writers in the second half of the 20th century.[2][3]

In the late 1960s, he earned his reputation as a member of the avant-garde with such plays as Offending the Audience (1966) in which actors analyze the nature of theatre and alternately insult the audience and praise its "performance", and Kaspar (1967). His novels, mostly ultra objective, deadpan accounts of characters in extreme states of mind, include The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1970) and The Left-Handed Woman (1976).[4] Prompted by his mother's suicide in 1971, he reflected her life in the novella A Sorrow Beyond Dreams (1972).

A dominant theme of his works is the deadening effects and underlying irrationality of ordinary language, everyday reality, and rational order.[4] 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, and wrote such screenplays as The Wrong Move and Wings of Desire.

In 1973, he won the Georg Büchner Prize, the most important literary prize for German-language literature. In 1999, as a protest against the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Handke returned the prize money to the German Academy for Language and Literature.[5] Handke has drawn significant controversy for his public support of Serbian nationalism in the wake of the Yugoslav Wars. [6]


Early life and family

Handke was born in Griffen, then in the German Reich's province Gau 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.[7] 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.[7]

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.[7] 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][8]

After leaving Graz, Handke lived in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Kronberg, Paris, the U.S. (1978–1979) and Salzburg (1979–1988).[9] Since 1990, he has resided in Chaville near Paris.[10] He is the subject of the documentary film Peter Handke: In the Woods, Might Be Late (2016), directed by Corinna Belz.[11] Since 2012, Handke has been a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.[12] He is a member of the Serbian Orthodox Church.[13][14]

As of early November 2019, there was an official investigation by the relevant authorities into whether Handke may have automatically lost his Austrian citizenship upon obtaining a Yugoslav passport and nationality in the late 1990s.[15]


While studying, Handke established himself as a writer, linking up with the Grazer Gruppe (the Graz Authors' Assembly), an association of young writers.[9] The group published a magazine on literature, manuskripte [de], which published Handke's early works.[2] Group members included Wolfgang Bauer and Barbara Frischmuth.[16]

Handke abandoned his studies in 1965,[2] after the German publishing house Suhrkamp Verlag accepted his novel Die Hornissen [de] (The Hornets) for publication.[17] 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.[18] The same year, his play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) premiered at the Theater am Turm [de] in Frankfurt, directed by Claus Peymann [de].[17][18] Handke became one of the co-founders of the publishing house Verlag der Autoren [de] in 1969 with a new commercial concept, as it belonged to the authors.[19] He co-founded the Grazer Autorenversammlung in 1973[20] and was a member until 1977.[9]

Handke's first play, Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience), which premiered in Frankfurt in 1966 and made him well known,[18] 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".[18]

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) including the poem at its opening 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][9] The Left-Handed Woman, was released in 1978 and 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. 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." Handke also won the 1975 German Film Award in Gold for his screenplay for Falsche Bewegung (The Wrong Move). Since 1975, Handke has been a jury member of the European literary award Petrarca-Preis.[21]

In 2019, Handke was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience."[1]

Literary reception

In 1977, reviewing A Moment of True Feeling, Stanley Kauffmann wrote that Handke "is the most important new writer on the international scene since Samuel Beckett."[22] John Updike reviewed the same novel in The New Yorker and was equally impressed, noting that "there is no denying his [Handke's] willful intensity and knifelike clarity of evocation. He writes from an area beyond psychology, where feelings acquire the adamancy of randomly encountered, geologically analyzed pebbles."[23] The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described him as "the darling of the West German critics."[24] Hugo Hamilton stated that, since his debut, Handke "has tested, inspired and shocked audiences."[25] Joshua Cohen noted that Handke "commands one of the great German-language prose styles of the post-war period, a riverine rhetoric deep and swift and contrary of current," while Gabriel Josipovici described him, "despite reservations about some of his recent work," as one of the most significant German-language writers of the post-war era.[26][27] W. G. Sebald was inspired by Handke's intricate prose. In an essay on Repetition, he wrote about "a great and, as I have since learned, lasting impression" the book made on him. "I don’t know," he lauded, "if the forced relation between hard drudgery and airy magic, particularly significant for the literary art, has ever been more beautifully documented than in the pages of Repetition."[28] Karl Ove Knausgård described A Sorrow Beyond Dreams as one of the "most important books written in German in our time."[29] The book and its author were also praised in Knausgård's My Struggle.[30]


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.[6]

Sebastian Hammelehle wrote that Handke's view of the Yugoslav Wars, which has provoked numerous controversies, was probably romanticized, but that it represented the view of a writer, not a war reporter.[31] The American translator Scott Abbott, who travelled with Handke through Yugoslavia after which numerous essays were published, stated that Handke considered Yugoslavia as the "incredible, rich multicultural state that lacked the kind of nationalisms that he saw in Germany and Austria".[24] Abbott added that Handke viewed the disintegration of country as the disappearance of utopia.[24] Reviewing The Moravian Night, Joshua Cohen stated that Handke's Yugoslavia was not a country, but a symbol of himself, a symbol of literature or the "European Novel".[26] Volker Hage wrote that The Moravian Night is "extremely cosmopolitan" and connected to the present, while also that the book represents the autobiographical summary of Handke's life as a writer.[32] Tanjil Rashid noted that "Handke’s novels, plays and memoirs demonstrate the evil of banality".[29]

After his play Voyage by Dugout was staged in 1999, Handke was condemned by other writers: Susan Sontag proclaimed Handke to be "finished" in New York.[33] Salman Rushdie declared him as a candidate for "International Moron of the Year" due to his "idiocies",[34][35][36] while Alain Finkielkraut said that he was an "ideological monster",[37] and Slavoj Žižek stated that his "glorification of the Serbs is cynicism".[37] When Handke was awarded the International Ibsen Award in 2014, it caused some calls for the jury to resign.[38][who?]

However, disputing such interpretations of his work as listed above as misinterpreted by the English press, Handke has described the Srebrenica massacre as an "infernal vengeance, eternal shame for the Bosnian Serbs responsible."[39] This concern about the imprecision and political nature of language, carries through Handke's view. In a 2006 interview, Handke commented on concerns about the stereotyped language of the media that "knew everything", endlessly recycling words like "the butcher of Belgrade".[40]

Handke’s literary fame was overshadowed in 2006 by his politics. The writer’s public support of Slobodan Milošević, the former president of Yugoslavia who died that year while on trial for genocide and war crimes, caused controversy after Handke spoke at his funeral.[2] Because of this the administrator of the theatre Comédie-Française, Marcel Bozonnet, removed Handke's play "Voyage au pays sonore ou L'art de la question" from the forthcoming 2007 schedule.[41] This event once again drew both supportive and critical voices. Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the French minister of culture, implicitly criticized Bozonnet's action in a letter addressed to him, and by deciding to invite Handke to the ministry. A petition against the censorship of his work was signed by Emir Kusturica, Patrick Modiano (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014), Paul Nizon, Bulle Ogier, Luc Bondy and Handke’s compatriot Elfriede Jelinek (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004).[42] Handke was subsequently selected to receive that year’s Heinrich Heine Prize, though he refused it before it was to be revoked from him.[2]

In 2013, Tomislav Nikolić, as the then President of Serbia, expressed gratitude saying that some people still remember those who suffered for Christianity, implying that Handke was a victim of scorn for his views, to which Handke replied with an explanation, "I was not anyone's victim, the Serbian people is victim." This was said during the ceremony at which Handke received the Gold Medal of Merit of the Republic of Serbia.[43]

In 2019, The Intercept published a number of articles by Peter Maass criticizing Peter Handke's Nobel Prize in Literature reception. In another article by Intercept, Maass went to great lengths accusing Handke of being an "exponent of white nationalism". Subsequently in an interview conducted by Maass in December 2019, asking Handke whether the 1995 Srebrenica massacre had happened, Handke responded: “I prefer waste paper, an anonymous letter with waste paper inside, to your empty and ignorant questions.” Maass also claims that two Nobel prize jurors were adhering to "conspiracy theories" with regard to American involvement in the Yugoslav conflicts, and that the jurors were "misinformed" about Handke's literary achievements. Peter Handke received countless mails that included threats, or unsanitary content. Germany's Eugen Ruge also protested against the scale of the criticism. In November, around 120 authors, literary scholars, translators and artists expressed their unease in an open letter. They felt that the criticism against Handke was no longer rational.[44][45][46]

In February 2020, Handke was decorated with the Order of Karađorđe's Star for "special merits in representing Serbia and its citizens" as he "wholeheartedly defended the Serbian truth". The current President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić presented recipients on the occasion of the Serbian Statehood Day.[47][48]

Reactions to the Nobel Prize

Main article: 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature

See also: Nobel Prize controversies



Main article: Peter Handke bibliography

Handke has written novels, plays, screenplays, essays and poems, often published by Suhrkamp.[17] Many works were translated into English. His works are held by the German National Library, including:[64]

Prose fiction

Plays and screenplays

Further reading


  1. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2019".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Peter Handke". 7 October 2023.
  3. ^ "Peter Handke Facts".
  4. ^ a b "Peter Handke summary". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 5 February 2022.
  5. ^ "Chronik 1973". (in German). Retrieved 6 February 2022.
  6. ^ a b Sage, Adam (29 July 2006). "Theatre boss's dismissal splits artistic community". The Times. Archived from the original on 16 February 2017.
  7. ^ a b c "Peter Handke / österreichischer Schriftsteller". (in German). Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  8. ^ Curwen, Thomas (5 January 2003). "Choosing against life". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d Wenders, Wim. "Peter Handke". Archived from the original on 25 August 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  10. ^ Messie und Messias / Wie wohnt eigentlich der Schriftsteller Peter Handke? Ein Hausbesuch. Süddeutsche Zeitung 8 October 2011
  11. ^ "Peter Handke – Bin im Wald. Kann sein, dass ich mich verspäte..." (in German). Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  12. ^ "Outrage in Bosnia, Kosovo over Peter Handke's Nobel prize win". Al Jazeera. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ James Smyth: Handke in Another Tempo
  15. ^ "Nobel Prize Winner Handke Admits Having Yugoslav Passport". The Associated Press. AP. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  16. ^ Wakounig, Marija (2018). East Central Europe at a Glance: People – Cultures – Developments. Munster, Germany: LIT Verlag. p. 302. ISBN 978-3-643-91046-2. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  17. ^ a b c "Peter Handke / österreichischer Schriftsteller". (in German). Suhrkamp Verlag. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  18. ^ a b c d Hutchinson, Ben (23 August 2011). "Peter Handke's wilful controversies". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  19. ^ Martin Lüdke: 50 Jahre "Verlag der Autoren" / Mit Enthusiasmus gegründet Deutschlandfunk, 11 March 2019
  20. ^ 40 Jahre Grazer Autorenversammlung ORF 15 June 2013
  21. ^ "Petrarca Preis". (in German). Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  22. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (25 June 1977). "The Novel as Poem". Saturday Review. p. 23.
  23. ^ Updike, John (26 September 1977). "Discontent in Deutsch". The New Yorker. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  24. ^ a b c Marshall, Alex; Schuetze, Christopher (10 December 2019). "Genius, Genocide Denier or Both?". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  25. ^ Hamilton, Hugo. "Peter Handke's gentle epic". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  26. ^ a b Cohen, Joshua (30 December 2016). "Peter Handke's Time-Traveling Tale of a Europe in Flux". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  27. ^ Josipovici, Gabriel. "Peter Handke's gentle epic". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  28. ^ Sebald, W. G. (2013). Across the Border: Peter Handke's Repetition (PDF). The Last Books. pp. 2, 8.
  29. ^ a b Rashid, Tanjil (6 December 2016). "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke — memoir, suffering and politics". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  30. ^ Knausgård, Karl Ove (2011). Min kamp. Sjette bok. Oslo: Forlaget Oktober. p. 225. ISBN 9788249515127.
  31. ^ Hammelehle, Sebastian (10 October 2019). "Die besten Romane und Erzählungen des Nobelpreisträgers". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  32. ^ Hage, Volker (7 January 2008). "Der übermütige Unglücksritter". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  33. ^ Zakaria, Rafia (10 December 2019). "Peter Handke and Olga Tokarczuk: Nobel prize winners epitomize our darkest divides". CNN. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  34. ^ "Critics condemn 'shameful' Nobel for writer Handke". BBC News. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  35. ^ "Slavoj Žižek, Salman Rushdie, američki i britanski P.E.N. osudili izbor Petera Handkea, austrijski predsjednik Alexander Van der Bellen smatra da 'imamo još puno toga naučiti od Handkea'". (in Croatian). Slobodna Dalmacija. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  36. ^ Salman Rushdie (7 May 1999). "For services rendered – to the cause of folly". Balkan Witness. from The Toronto Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 May 2020. In the battle for the hotly contested title of International Moron of the Year, two heavyweight contenders stand out. One is the Austrian writer Peter Handke, who has astonished even his work's most fervent admirers by a series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic, and who, during a recent visit to Belgrade, received the Order of The Serbian Knight for his propaganda services. Mr. Handke's previous idiocies include the suggestion that Sarajevo's Muslims regularly massacred themselves and then blamed the Serbs, and his denial of the genocide carried out by Serbs at Srebrenica. Now he likens the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's aerial bombardment to the alien invasion in the movie Mars Attacks! And then, foolishly mixing his metaphors, he compares the Serbs' sufferings to the Holocaust.
  37. ^ a b Traynor, Ian (21 April 1999). "Stand up if you support the Serbs". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2019. This writer, the Austrian, has his very personal style. The very worst crimes get mentioned rather sweetly. And so the reader completely forgets that we're dealing with crimes. The Austrian writer who visited my country found only very proud people there. They proudly put up with everything that happened to them, so much so that in their pride they didn't bother to ask why all this was happening to them.
  38. ^ Krever at juryen går av, Klassekampen
  39. ^ "Parlons donc de la Yougoslavie". Libération (in French). Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  40. ^ "Le discours intégral de l'écrivain autrichien sur la tombe de Milosevic," Libération, 4 May 2006.
  41. ^ "Künstler-Protest für den Autor". Der Spiegel (in German). 3 May 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  42. ^ "Jelinek soutient Peter Handke". Libération (in French). Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  43. ^ "Nikolić odlikovao Petera Handkea". (in Serbian). 8 April 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  44. ^ "Congratulations, Nobel Committee, You Just Gave the Literature Prize to a Genocide Apologist". TheIntercept. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  45. ^ Sheeehan D. (December 6, 2019) “I prefer toilet paper to your empty and ignorant questions.” The Peter Handke drama rolls on. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  46. ^ "Nobel laureate Peter Handke's critics and supporters". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 3 May, 2021.
  47. ^ "Vučić dodijelio Handkeu Orden Karađorđeve zvijezde". Al Jazeera Balkans (in Serbo-Croatian). 15 February 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  48. ^ "Vučić odlikovao Zemana i Handkea". Radio Slobodna Evropa (in Serbo-Croatian). 15 April 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  49. ^ "Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung – Awards – Georg-Büchner-Preis – Peter Handke". Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  50. ^ "Kaj imata letošnja Nobelova nagrajenca za književnost s Slovenijo?".
  51. ^ "Award Laureates in 2000". Archived from the original on 11 October 2019. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  52. ^ "Green Integer Books – America Awards". Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  53. ^ Handke wird Ehrendoktor der Universität Klagenfurt Wiener Zeitung. 5 November 2002. Retrieved 10 October 2019
  54. ^ Peter Handke ist bald zweifacher Ehrendoktor Der Standard. 13 June 2003. Retrieved 10 October 2019
  55. ^ 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.
  56. ^ "Společnost Franze Kafky – Cena Franze Kafky". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  57. ^ "Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis an Peter Handke –". Der Standard (in German). 8 June 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  58. ^ Controversial writer wins €300,000 Ibsen award Irish Times. 21 March 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2014
  59. ^ Peter Handke erhält Nestroy für sein Lebenswerk Die Presse. 10 October 2018. Retrieved 10 October 2018
  60. ^ 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.
  61. ^ Serbia, RTS, Radio televizija Srbije, Radio Television of. "Uručena odlikovanja povodom Dana državnosti". Retrieved 15 February 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  62. ^ "Peter Handke doputovao u Banjaluku, primio Orden Republike Srpske". N1 (in Serbian). 7 May 2021. Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  63. ^ "Bundespräsident ehrte Nobelpreisträger Zeilinger, Handke und Kandel". Der Standard (in German). 22 February 2024. Retrieved 24 February 2024.
  64. ^ "Peter Handke". Katalog der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek (in German). German National Library. Retrieved 16 February 2017.