The Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday at the French author Annie Ernauxciting “the courage and clinical acuity with which she discovers the roots, the distances and the collective constraints of personal memory”.
The academy could not reach Ernaux by phone when Mats Malm, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, announced the award at a press conference in Stockholm. She found out when she heard the news on the radio and walked out of her home in the Paris suburbs to speak briefly to reporters on Thursday afternoon, reports Reuters. “I’m very happy,” she said in French. “I’m proud. And that’s it.”
Ernaux, 82, has written more than 20 books since the 1970s. His work is praised for its searing honesty; the author recounted his first sexual experiences, an illegal abortion, a passionate extramarital affair and the death of his parents, among others. For years, the literary community has viewed Ernaux as a frontrunner for the distinction, which is awarded to an author for lifetime achievement and is widely considered the highest honor a writer can achieve.
“His work is uncompromising and written in simple, uncluttered language,” said Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Literature Committee, during the price announcement. “And when she…reveals the agony of the classroom experience, describing shame, humiliation, jealousy, or the inability to see who you are, she has achieved something admirable and lasting. “
Born in rural Normandy in 1940, Ernaux grew up in a working-class family. She studied at University of Rouen become a teacher, and she wrote her first novel in college. But publishers rejected it for being “too ambitious”, she told the New York Times‘ Laura Cappelle in 2020. It wasn’t until she was in her thirties, married with two children, that she started writing again.
When it started in 1974 Cleaned up, Ernaux recounts her humble youth and her clandestine abortion, which she underwent in secret while the operation was still illegal in France. His breakthrough into the mainstream came with his fourth book, A man’s place. Published in 1983, the little book explores her father’s life and their relationship.
Internationally, Ernaux is best known for Years. Published in 2008, the creative memoir documents his own life and French society as a whole from the 1940s to the 2000s. Notably, Ernaux wrote Years third person rather than first person. Critics also celebrated EventErnaux’s 2000 book which goes into more detail about the illegal abortion she had at age 23. Last year the book was adapted as feature film.
Speaking after the award was announced, Olsson described Ernaux as an honest writer who “isn’t afraid to face the hard truths”, according to David Keyton, Jill Lawless and Masha Macpherson of the Associated press (AP).
“She writes about things that no one else writes about, like her abortion, her jealousy, her experiences as an abandoned lover, etc. I mean, really difficult experiences,” he said. “And she gives words for these experiences that are very simple and striking. They are short books, but they are really moving.”
Audrey Diwan, the French director of Eventtell it New York Times‘ Cappelle that Ernaux’s writing “speaks to so many people and becomes a ‘we’, a collective voice across borders”. The distinction, she adds, “puts a well-deserved spotlight on a huge body of work”.
Out of 119 people to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Ernaux is only the 17th woman and the first French woman. She joins more than a dozen French writers who have been honored with the award.
The Swedish Academy has been criticized over the years for not recognizing a wide range of writers: including Ermaux, 96 of the last 119 winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature have been European or North American. The organization is working to expand its reach, Olsson tells the AP, but “it’s the quality that counts, in the end.”
Last year, the Nobel went to a Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee into the chasm between cultures and continents”. american poet Louise Gluck won the prize in 2020. The prize is worth 10 million Swedish kronor, or nearly $900,000.