French writer Annie Ernaux awarded Nobel Prize in literature

STOCKHOLM (AP) – French author Annie Ernaux, who dismantled her own biography to explore life in France since the 1940s, was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday for a work that explores dark corners of memory, family and society illuminated.

The Swedish Academy said Ernaux, 82, was recognized for “the courage and clinical acuity with which she exposes the roots, alienations and collective limitations of personal memory”. She is the first French literary prize winner since Patrick Modiano in 2014.

Ernaux told Swedish broadcaster SVT by phone that the award was “a great honor” and “a very great responsibility”.

Ernaux began writing autobiographical novels but quickly abandoned fiction in favor of memoirs.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Literature Committee, said Ernaux used the term “an ethnologist of herself” and not a novelist.

Her more than 20 books, most of them very short, chronicle events in her life and the lives of those around her. They show uncompromising portraits of sexual encounters, abortion, illness and the death of their parents.

Olsson said Ernaux’s work was often “uncompromisingly written in clear language, scraped clean”.

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“She has achieved something admirable and enduring,” he told reporters after the announcement in Stockholm, Sweden.

Ernaux describes her style as “flat writing” – aiming to provide a very objective look at the events she is describing, uninfluenced by flowery descriptions or overwhelming emotions.

In her book La Place (A Man’s Place) she writes of her relationship with her father: “No lyrical reminiscences, no triumphant display of irony. This neutral style of writing comes naturally to me.”

Her novel Happening, published in 2000, describes the consequences of illegal abortion.

Her most critically acclaimed book is The Years (Les annees), published in 2008, which chronicles herself and French society in general from the end of World War II to the present day. Unlike previous books, Ernaux writes about herself in the third person in The Years, calling her character “she” instead of “I.” The book received numerous awards and honors.

2016’s A Girl’s Story follows a young woman’s coming of age in the 1950s.

Ernaux is only the 17th woman among the 119 Nobel Prize winners for literature. Last year’s winner, Tanzanian-born, UK-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnahwas only the sixth African-born winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the prize has long been criticized for being too biased towards European and North American writers and too male-dominated.

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“First and foremost, we’re trying to broaden the scope of the Nobel Prize, but our focus has to be on literary quality,” Olsson said.

Awards to Gurnah in 2021 and to American poet Louise Glück in 2020 helped the literary prize weather years of controversy and scandal.

In 2018, the award was postponed after allegations of sexual abuse rocked the Swedish Academy, which appoints the Nobel Literature Committee, and prompted an exodus of members. The academy has redesigned itself, but has faced more criticism for awarding the 2019 literary prize to Austrian Peter Handke, who has been described as an apologist for Serbian war crimes.

A week full of Nobel Prize announcements began on Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the award in medicine for deciphering the mysteries of Neanderthal DNA that provided important insights into our immune system.

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Three scientists jointly won the prize in physics on Tuesday. The Frenchman Alain Aspect, the American John F. Clauser and the Austrian Anton Zeilinger had shown that tiny particles can remain connected to 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 to Americans Carolyn R. Bertozzi and K. Barry Sharpless and Danish scientist Morten Meldal on Wednesday for developing a method of “putting molecules together” that can be used to study cells, map DNA, and develop 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.

The prizes are worth 10 million Swedish kronor (almost US$900,000) and will be presented on December 10th. The money comes from a legacy left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.


Jordans reported from Berlin and Lawless from London. Naomi Koppel in London contributed to this.


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