The Fritt Ord Prize 2021
Jan Grue, Bjørn Hatterud and Olaug Nilssen

The Fritt Ord Foundation Prize for 2021 is awarded to the authors Jan Grue, Bjørn Hatterud and Olaug Nilssen for their powerful, critical efforts to shed light on the social situation and freedom of expression culture for people with disabilities in Norway.

“The diversity debate in Norway’s public discourse rarely includes individuals with reduced functional abilities. Grue, Hatterud and Nilssen, each in their own way, make sharp, knowledgeable and debate-provoking contributions to public discourse through books and newspaper articles that reach a broad audience”, remarks Grete Brochmann, Chair of the Fritt Ord Foundation Board. “The three authors give language to people who are often unable to find their own, and who are not always seen”.

Individuals with reduced functional abilities are often left out of discussions on human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of culture. This group includes several hundred thousand people, and a large proportion of them have disabilities that are invisible to others. Many encounter barriers in everyday life, the school system and working life. During the corona pandemic over the past year, many people with disabilities have been especially hard hit and have suffered greatly.

One of the main reasons we defend freedom of expression is so that as many different voices as possible can exchange opinions and views. Individuals with reduced functional abilities constitute a highly diverse and comprehensive group that struggles hard to be heard in public discourse. The media show little interest, and this group’s opinions and experiences are not often taken into account. The group is rarely represented in public reports, and is not represented on the current Freedom of Expression Commission.

People with disabilities are one of the protected groups mentioned in the penal code’s ban on hate speech. In contrast to ethnic and religious minorities and the gay community, for example, this group receives little attention from the police or the courts. The climate for freedom of expression among people with disabilities is tough. The first studies of hate speech against this large group were made just three years ago. The studies showed that one of three experience offensive statements regularly, and one of four encounter hate speech.

Jan Grue, Bjørn Hatterud and Olaug Nilssen draw on their own stories and experiences as individuals with disabilities (Grue and Hatterud) or relatives (Nilssen). Through debate-provoking contributions and literature of high quality, the three focus attention on the severity of the social problem resulting from low expectations and a poor freedom of culture for people with disabilities.

The prize laureates

Jan Grue (40) is a professor of Special Needs Education at the University of Oslo, where he does research on embodiment and on understanding the body, illness, disabilities and normality. He has published a number of fiction and non-fiction books, including the auto-biographical book of essays I live a life like yours (2018). The book earned him the Norwegian Critic’s Prize and a nomination for the Nordic Council Literary Prize.

Bjørn Hatterud (43) is cultural writer, art curator, musician and author. He received a great deal of attention for his debut book Against Normal (2018), about growing up in Brumunddal as gay and disabled. In 2020, Me, Mum and Mjøsa was published, winning the Norwegian Critic’s Prize for Best Non-fiction Book for Adults the same year.

Olaug Nilssen (43) is a playwright and author. Her literary breakthrough was the novel Turn me on, dammit! in 2005. The novel A Tale of Difficult Times was released in 2017 and won the Brage Prize that same year. Based on the story of Nilssen’s autistic, disabled son, it discusses how demanding it is to champion a severely disabled child. She recently published the novel Give what you can, get what you need, which also revolves around autism and disability.

The Fritt Ord Foundation Prize

The Fritt Ord Foundation Prize is the Foundation’s highest honour. The prize laureates share the prize of NOK 500 000, and each of them will receive a statuette crafted and signed by Nils Aas. The date of the awards ceremony is yet to be determined due to the coronavirus situation.

The Fritt Ord Foundation

The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private non-profit foundation that aspires to promote freedom of expression, public debate, art and culture. The Fritt Ord Foundation’s Board consists of Grete Brochmann (Chair), Bård Vegar Solhjell (Deputy Chair), Anine Kierulf, Christian Bjelland, Guri Hjeltnes, Frank Rossavik and Sigrun Slapgard. Knut Olav Åmås is executive director of the Fritt Ord Foundation.