The Nobel Prize in Literature 1994
Born: 31 January 1935, Uchiko, Japan
Died: 3 March 2023, Tokyo, Japan
Residence at the time of the award: Japan
Prize motivation: “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today”
Prize share: 1/1
Kenzaburo Oe was born in Uchiko, Japan, and grew up with six siblings. At the age of 18, he began to study French literature at the University of Tokyo. He made his debut in the 1950s with short stories that were influenced by contemporary French and American authors. One of Oe’s sons was born with brain damage, and his disability is a recurring motif in the novels. The book A Personal Matter, published in 1962, was a way for the author to process and accept this event.
Several of Kenzaburo Oe’s novels deal with the aftermath of World War II and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including Hiroshima Notes (1965). Oe is a committed pacifist and has been involved in campaigns against nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Because of the content of some of his short stories and essays, Oe has become controversial in his native country. The essay Okinawa Notes, which depicts how members of Japan’s military forced the population on the island of Okinawa to take their lives during the invasion in 1945, led to the suing of Oe by two military officers.
See the full schedule