French Writer Annie Ernaux Receives Nobel Prize in Literature – Orange County Register


STOCKHOLM – French author Annie Ernaux, who has fearlessly drawn on her experiences as a working-class woman since the 1940s to explore life in France, won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday for her work, which explores the murky corners of memory, family and society illuminated.

Ernaux’s books explore deeply personal experiences and feelings – love, sex, abortion, shame – in a society divided by gender and class divides.

The author strongly defended women’s rights to abortion and contraception in some of her first comments after winning the award.

“I will fight to my last breath so women can choose to be a mother or not. It’s a fundamental right,” she said at a press conference in Paris. Ernaux’s first book, Cleaned Out, was about her own illegal abortion before it was legalized in France.

Ernaux also spoke about the importance of continuing to fight for women’s rights and her hope for peace because of her childhood during World War II.

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The Swedish Academy said Ernaux, 82, was recognized for “the courage and clinical acuity” of books rooted in her small-town background in Normandy, north-west France.

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

“She writes about things nobody else writes about, like her abortion, her jealousy, her experiences of being an abandoned lover, and so on. I mean, really tough experiences,” he told The Associated Press after the award announcement in Stockholm. “And she puts these experiences into words that are very simple and powerful. They’re short books, but they’re really moving.”

Ernaux, one of France’s most garlanded authors and a prominent feminist voice, said she was happy to have won the award, which is worth 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly $900,000) – but was “not blown away”.

“I’m very happy, I’m proud. Voila, that’s all,” Ernaux told journalists outside her home in Cergy, a working-class town west of Paris, which she has written about.

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

While Macron praised Ernaux for her Nobel Prize, she was hard on him. A supporter of left-wing social justice concerns, she has despised Macron’s background in banking, saying his first term as president did not advance the cause of French women.

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

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 “written in plain language, scraped clean”. He said she used the term “an ethnologist of herself” rather than a novelist.

Ernaux worked as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. Her first book was Les armoires vides in 1974 (published in English as Cleaned Out). Two more autobiographical novels followed – Ce qu’ils disent ou rien (Whatever They Say) and La femme gelée (The Frozen Woman) – before turning to more open autobiographical books.

In her 1983 book “La place” (“A Man’s Place”), she writes about her relationship with her father: “No lyrical reminiscences, no triumphant display of irony. This neutral style of writing comes naturally to me.”

“La honte” (“Shame”), published in 1997, dealt with a childhood trauma, “L’événement” (“Happening”) from 2000 dealt with an illegal abortion.

Her most critically acclaimed book is Les années (The Years), published in 2008, which chronicled herself and broader French society from the end of World War II into the 21st century. Unlike previous books, Ernaux wrote in the third person in The Years and called her character “she” instead of “I”. The book received numerous awards and honors, and Olsson said it was called “the first collective autobiography”.

2016’s ‘Mémoire de fille’ (‘A Girl’s Story’) follows the coming of age of a young woman in the 1950s, while ‘Passion Simple’ and ‘Se perdre’ (‘Getting Lost’) Charts reach Ernaux’ intense affair with a Russian diplomat.

Ernaux told the Liberation newspaper that “Simple Passion” “made me a lot of enemies” and angered “the bourgeoisie”. She said she was despised by France’s literary establishment because “I was a woman who didn’t come from her background”.

The literary prize has long been criticized for being too heavily geared towards European and North American writers and too male-dominated. Last year’s winner, Tanzanian-born, UK-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, became only the sixth African-born Nobel Prize winner in literature.

Olsson said the academy is working to diversify its offering by drawing on literary experts from different regions and languages.

“We’re trying to expand the notion of literature, but ultimately it’s quality that counts,” he said.

A week of Nobel Prize announcements began on Monday when Swedish scientist Svante Paabo received the Medicine Prize for unlocking the mysteries of Neanderthal DNA, which provided important insights into our immune system.

Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger won Tuesday’s physics prize for their work showing that tiny particles can remain connected to each other even when separated, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement is known. French Writer Annie Ernaux Receives Nobel Prize in Literature – Orange County Register

Adam Bradshaw

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