Dario Fo, the unabashed leftist playwright who was prosecuted by Italy, denounced by Roman Catholic Church leaders and barred from the United States, won the Nobel Prize for Literature Thursday.
Fo, Italy’s best-known dramatist despite a ban on his work on state-run radio and TV, was a surprise choice, absent from most critics’ lists of contenders. Fo himself seemed stunned.
“I’m amazed,” he said on hearing he had won the $1 million prize.
“It will pay him back for the many, many humiliations he has suffered in his life,” wife and collaborator Franca Rame said. “I believe that today many critics, when they hear this news, will have a heart attack.”
In honoring the 71-year-old Fo, the Swedish Academy called him the modern equivalent of a court jester, citing his “scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.”
The Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, was quick to register its disapproval of the academy’s choice. Fo’s plays include his own spin on certain biblical stories, and often hold the church up to scathing ridicule.
“Giving the prize to an actor who is also an author of debatable texts … has surpassed all imagination,” the Vatican newspaper declared.
Since Fo and his wife founded a theater company in 1959, the pair have made a career out of satirizing postwar Italian politics, including the scandals that brought down politicians and businessmen in the early 1990s.
In 1980, he and Rame were refused visas to the United States because of their support for left-wing activities in Italy. In 1984, the U.S. government relented and allowed the couple to briefly visit New York to see a production of his work “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.”
The Italian government barred his work from state broadcasting until 1977, and prosecuted him - unsuccessfully - on several occasions for allegedly defaming police and other offenses.
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