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Nobel Prizes 2022

French author Annie Ernaux wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Print edition : Nov 11, 2022 T+T-

French author Annie Ernaux wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Annie Ernaux in March 2019 in Paris.

Annie Ernaux in March 2019 in Paris. | Photo Credit: Laurent Benhamou

She is the 17th woman to win the Prize, which has faced allegations of gender bias in recent times.

French author Annie Ernaux, known for her deceptively simple novels drawing on personal experience of class and gender, won the Nobel Literature Prize on October 6, the jury announced.

Ernaux, 82, was honoured “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”, the jury said.

Interviewed on Swedish television immediately after the announcement, Ernaux called it a “very great honour” and “a great responsibility”.

Her more than 20 books, many of which have been school texts in France for decades, offer one of the most subtle, insightful windows into the social life of modern France. Above all, Ernaux’s crystalline prose has excavated her own passage from working-class girl to the literary elite, casting a critical eye on social structures and her own complicated emotions.

Her legacy is the grit in the French literary oyster, or as she puts it, to offer an alternative to the “unconditional admiration for the pretty phrase.”

Chairman of the Committee for Literature, Anders Olsson, and member of the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature, Ellen Mattson, speak during the announcement of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature, in Borshuset, Stockholm, Sweden, on October 6.
Chairman of the Committee for Literature, Anders Olsson, and member of the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature, Ellen Mattson, speak during the announcement of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature, in Borshuset, Stockholm, Sweden, on October 6. | Photo Credit: Henrik Montgomery

“In her writing, Ernaux consistently and from different angles, examines a life marked by strong disparities regarding gender, language and class”, the Swedish Academy noted. “Her work is uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean”, it added.

“And when she with great courage and clinical acuity reveals the agony of the experience of class, describing shame, humiliation, jealousy or inability to see who you are, she has achieved something admirable and enduring”.

Diversity pledge

The Nobel Prize comes with a medal and a prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $911,400). Last year, the award went to Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose work focuses on the plight of refugees and exile, colonialism and racism.

Ernaux will receive the Nobel from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

Books by Annie Ernaux are on display at the Swedish Academy after the Nobel announcement.
Books by Annie Ernaux are on display at the Swedish Academy after the Nobel announcement. | Photo Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND

Ernaux, whose name has circulated in Nobel speculation for several years, is the 17th woman to win the prestigious prize, out of 119 literature laureates since the first Nobel was awarded in 1901. The Swedish Academy has in recent years pledged to make the prize more diverse, after a 2017-2018 #MeToo scandal that left it in tatters.

Famed and lambasted for its Eurocentric picks dominated by men, the Nobel jury has repeatedly maintained, however, that its prize is neither political nor subject to gender or ethnic quotas. It has insisted that its only criterion is the quality of a writer’s body of work.