The news of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature being belatedly awarded to the Polish Novelist Olga Tokarczuk is exciting and significant for many reasons, including a direct connection to work happening in the Department of Theater this year.

In addition to being an innovative, ambitious, and popular writer, Tokarczuk is a progressive public intellectual in Poland who has spoken out on a variety of issues including women’s rights, minority rights, environmental issues, animal rights, and immigrant/refugee rights. Tokarczuk has been a thorn in the side of Poland's current right-wing government and repeatedly provoked elements of the country's extreme right. She received death threats for public statements that she made a couple of years ago that resulted in her publisher providing her with personal security guards. She has moved from a critically-acclaimed counter cultural writer to providing an epic vision of Poland's multicultural history in her most recent novel THE BOOKS OF JACOB (dealing with the complex history of the heretical Jewish leader Jakub Frank in 18th-century Poland), which won Poland's most prestigious literary award in 2016 (and is about to appear in English translation).

Tokarczuk's own mixed Ukrainian-Polish background and her upbringing in the western territories of postwar Poland that were previously part of Germany have made her acutely aware of the ethical complexities of identity, history, and politics in Poland and beyond. Her magic realist novel HOUSE OF DAY, HOUSE OF NIGHT (available in English translation) captures this aspect of her sensibility and life-long ties to the Polish-German borderlands of Upper and Lower Silesia.

A detailed article on the political significance of Tokarczuk's Nobel appeared on line in THE NEW YORK TIMES today:

Tokarczuk’s connection to Swarthmore is very direct at the moment: Michał Zadara ’99 and Barbara Wysocka, our Cornell Visiting Professors in Theater this year, are personally acquainted with Tokarczuk and will be doing preliminary work on a stage adaptation of her Booker International Prize-winning novel FLIGHTS while on campus in May and June with the support of the Swarthmore Project in Theater. Their work on campus will include English-language public showings on campus of the work-in-progress in June. We anticipate both student and faculty involvement with this work on campus, which will culminate with a professional production in Polish in Warsaw in December at Teatr Powszechny, which THE NEW YORKER has called the city's "headquarters for artists and intellectuals." The work here will be on an English-language version of the piece that can tour internationally (hopefully including the United States).

I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Croft, the American translator of FLIGHTS, while in Warsaw as a Fulbright Scholar 2017-18. She shared the Man Booker International Prize with Tokarczuk in 2018.

Stay tuned!