French writer Annie Ernaux wins the Nobel Prize for Literature


French author Annie Ernaux, who bravely excerpted her own biography to explore life in France since the 1940s, was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday for her work that sheds light on dark corners of memory, family and society.

Ernaux’s books explore deeply personal experiences and feelings – love, sex, abortion, shame – within a society divided by gender and class divides. The Swedish Academy said Ernaux, 82, was recognized for the books’ “courage and clinical acumen” rooted in her background in a working-class family in the Normandy region of north-west France.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Literature Committee, said Ernaux is “an extremely honest writer who is not afraid to face hard truths”.

“She writes about things no one else writes about – for example, her abortion, her jealousy, her experiences as an abandoned lover, etc. I mean, really tough experiences,” he said after the award was announced in Stockholm. “And she gives words for these experiences that are very simple and striking. They are short books, but they are really moving.

One of France’s most successful authors and a leading feminist voice, Ernaux said she was happy to have won the prize, which comes with a cash reward of 10 million Swedish crowns (nearly 900 000 dollars), but “not upset”.

“I am very happy, I am proud. That’s it,” Ernaux said in brief remarks to reporters outside her home in Cergy, a town west of Paris that she has written about.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “Annie Ernaux has been writing for 50 years the novel of the collective and intimate memory of our country. Her voice is that of the freedom of women and of the forgotten of the century.

While Macron congratulated Ernaux on his Nobel Prize, she spared no effort with him. A supporter of leftist causes for social justice, she scorned Macron’s background in banking and said her first term as president had failed to advance the cause of French women.

Ernaux is the first French woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and only the 17th woman among the 119 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. More than a dozen French writers have received the literature prize since Sully Prudhomme won the inaugural prize in 1901. The last French winner before Ernaux was Patrick Modiano in 2014.

His more than 20 books, most of them very short, chronicle events in his life and the lives of those around him. They present uncompromising portraits of her parents’ sexual encounters, abortions, illnesses and death.

Olsson said Ernaux’s work was often “uncompromising and written in simple, scratchy language”. He said Ernaux used the phrase “an ethnologist of herself” to describe her approach to her work rather than seeing herself as a writer of fiction.

Ernaux describes her style as “flat writing” – a highly objective view of the events she describes, not shaped by flowery description or overwhelming emotions.

Ernaux worked as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. Her first book was ‘Cleaned Out’ in 1974. Two more autobiographical novels followed – ‘What They Say Goes’ and ‘The Frozen Woman’ – before moving on to more overtly autobiographical books.

In the book that made her name, “A Man’s Place,” about her relationship with her father, she writes: “No lyrical reminiscences, no triumphant irony. This neutral writing style comes naturally to me.

‘Shame’, released in 1997, explores childhood trauma, while 2000’s ‘Happening’ depicts an illegal abortion.

Her most critically acclaimed book was ‘The Years’, published in 2008, which described herself and wider French society from the end of World War II to the present day. Unlike previous books, in “The Years” she wrote about herself in the third person, calling her character “she” rather than “I”. The book received numerous awards and accolades, and Olsson said it has been called “the first collective autobiography”.

2016’s ‘A Girl’s Story’ follows a young woman’s coming of age in the 1950s, while ‘Simple Passion’ and ‘Getting Lost’ chart Ernaux’s intense affair with a Russian diplomat .

Ernaux told the French newspaper Liberation that “Simple Passion” “brought me a lot of enemies” and annoyed “the bourgeoisie”. She said she had been looked down upon by the French literary establishment because “I was a woman who didn’t come from their background”.

The Literature Prize has long faced criticism that it is too focused on European and North American writers, as well as too male-dominated. Last year’s winner, Tanzanian-born, UK-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, was just the sixth African-born Nobel laureate in literature.

“We try to broaden the scope of the Nobel Prize first, but we have to focus on literary quality,” Olsson said.

Gurnah’s 2021 and American Poet Louise Glück’s 2020 awards have helped the literature prize emerge from years of controversy and scandal.

In 2018, the prize was postponed after allegations of sexual abuse rocked the Swedish Academy, which appoints the Nobel literature committee, and sparked an exodus of members. The academy has reorganized but faced more criticism for awarding the 2019 literature prize to Austrian Peter Handke, who has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes.

A week of Nobel Prize announcements kicked off on Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the medicine prize for unlocking the secrets of Neanderthal DNA that provided key insights into our immune system.

Three scientists jointly won the physics prize on Tuesday. Californian scientist John F. Clauser, Frenchman Alain Aspect and Austrian Anton Zeilinger had shown that tiny particles can maintain a connection with each other even when separated, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. , which can be used for specialized computing and to encrypt information.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Wednesday to Californians Carolyn R. Bertozzi and K. Barry Sharpless and Danish scientist Morten Meldal for developing a way to “glue molecules together” that can be used to explore cells, map the DNA and design drugs that can target diseases like cancer more precisely.

The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the economics prize on Monday.

Prizes will be awarded on December 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896.

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