British playwright Harold Pinter, whose subtext-rich writing style is an adjective in the Oxford English dictionary, won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm on Thursday.
The 75-year-old London playwright, son of a Jewish tailor, is best known for such ground-breaking plays as "The Caretaker," "The Room," "The Birthday Party," and "The Dumb Waiter." Pinter is also a screenwriter, poet, director, actor, human rights advocate and recently, fierce opponent to the war in Iraq.
The Swedish Academy said in its citation that Pinter "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."
"Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretence crumbles," said the citation for the $1.28 million prize.
"I feel quite overwhelmed," Pinter said outside his London home Thursday, according to news agency reports. "I had absolutely no idea."
Pinter said he was "speechless," the Associated Press reported, and then added: "I have to stop being speechless when I get to Stockholm."
Pinter's spare, dark writing style, where much is going on underneath a surface of pregnant silences, has been dubbed "Pinteresque" and is an adjective found in the dictionary.
Pinter's plays revolve around the daily give-and-take of marriage, friendship and family life in Britain. He's known as a master of subtext, where most of the emotional drama is going on beneath the veneer of normal life. The characters are often enclosed in just one room and live their lives like a dark game with their actions often contradicting what they say.
"In a typical Pinter play, we meet people defending themselves against intrusion or their own impulses by entrenching themselves in a reduced and controlled existence," the academy said.
Academy Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl said Pinter, once a heavy smoker who underwent chemotherapy for esophageal cancer in 2002, was overwhelmed that he had won the prize.
"He did not say many words, in fact he was very happy," Engdahl said. He called Pinter the "towering figure" in English drama over the second half of the 20th century.
Pinter has looked frail and thin at recent public appearances, supporting himself with a cane. He has been quoted as saying he feels "exhausted" and "at the end of my tether."
His health has not stopped him from engaging in fierce political debate, however, most recently about the war in Iraq, which he has called a "bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism."
Pinter, born in East London in October 1930, is the first Briton to win the literature award since V.S. Naipaul won it in 2001.
The playwright has said that his encounters with anti-Semitism in his youth affected him deeply as did the wartime bombing of London, the academy said. Pinter won the award on Yom Kippur, the most important day of the year in the Jewish calendar.
Pinter honed his literary skills during his twenties as an actor in repertory theater companies in Britain and Ireland. Critics savaged his first full-length play in London, "The Birthday Party" in 1958, but by the opening of his 1960 ground-breaking play, "The Caretaker," Pinter was hailed as a fresh new talent and the awards started flowing in.
He solidified his reputation with plays such as "The Homecoming", which won the Tony Award for Best Play when it was produced in the United States in 1967 and the acclaimed "Betrayal," in 1978.
Pinter began screenwriting in the early 1960s and wrote the critically acclaimed film adaptation of John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" in 1981 and such other films as "The Go-Between," "The Servant" and "The Accident."
His romantic life became the subject of scandal in 1980 when his actress wife Vivien Merchant, star of many Pinter plays and mother to his son Daniel, divorced him after he had an affair with Lady Antonia Fraser, a renowned British author. Pinter married Fraser later that year and Merchant, an alcoholic, died in 1982, reportedly never getting over the break-up.
Pinter has also often directed for the stage and as an actor, has made periodic appearances on stage and in films he has scripted.
Most prolific between 1957 and 1965, Pinter has written 29 plays and directed 27 theater productions and received honorary degrees from 14 universities.
He told the BBC in an interview in February that he was taking a break from writing plays but that he would continue to write poems.
"My energies are going in different directions, certainly into poetry," Pinter said in the BBC interview six months ago.