A group of Swedish cultural figures even set up a substitute award, the New Academy Prize, to fill the gap and show a winner could be chosen in an open fashion, in contrast to the academy’s secret workings. Their laureate was Maryse Conde, a writer of historical novels from Guadeloupe.

Mr. Handke was born in 1942 in southern Austria to a German father and a mother from an area that was formerly in Yugoslavia, now in Slovenia. Both Handke’s biological father and his stepfather served in the Wehrmacht, the German army. After his mother’s suicide in 1971, Mr. Handke made sporadic visits to Yugoslavia.

He spent part of his childhood living in war-scarred Berlin and went on to study law at the University of Graz. He dropped out in 1965 after a publisher accepted his first novel, “The Hornets.” His body of work now includes novels, essays, screenplays and other dramatic works. He has been based in Chaville, a suburb of Paris, since 1990.

Literary critics have described his work as avant-garde, but Mr. Handke has dismissed that label, branding himself a “conservative classical writer.”

His decades of writing, published originally in German, include “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams,” a critically acclaimed novella based on his mother’s death. Michael Wood, reviewing the book in 1975 for The New York Times, called it “a major memorial to a host of buried German and Austrian lives” and “the best piece of new writing I have seen in several years.”

But Mr. Handke’s friendship with Slobodan Milosevic and his comments that seemed to downplay the Serbian massacres of Bosnian Muslims drew condemnation. In 2006, he was selected as the winner of Germany’s prestigious Heinrich Heine Prize, but it was revoked amid public outcry. In response, Mr. Handke asserted that he “never denied or played down, not to speak of sanctioned, any of the massacres in Yugoslavia.” When Mr. Handke was awarded the International Ibsen Award in 2014, he was met with protesters at the awards ceremony.

In the United States, Farrar, Straus and Giroux has published translations of Mr. Handke’s work since 1970, starting with his collection “Kaspar and Other Plays,” followed in 1972 by the novel “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.” Since then, FSG has released more than 15 books by Mr. Handke.


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