Ernaux’s work frequently deals with questions of personal history. Her memoir “The Happening” discusses an illegal abortion that she had in the 1960s. A 2018 translation of her memoir “The Years” was shortlisted for the Booker prize. A translation of Ernaux’s “Getting Lost,” a diary of her affair with a younger, married man, was published earlier this year.
Ernaux was born in 1940 in Normandy, the daughter of working class parents. She published her first book, “Cleaned Out,” a fictionalized account of her abortion, in 1974. She has two sons and lives in Cergy, in the Northwestern suburbs of Paris. She has previously won several French language literary prizes, including the Prix Renaudot.
In 1996, author Linda Barrett Osborne wrote, “Annie Ernaux’s work can evoke the same response that some modern art does in viewers: a tendency to think that, because it appears simple or direct in composition, it was simple to conceive, that anyone could create the same forms and impressions. Instead, at her best, Ernaux has the ability to refine ordinary experience, stripping it of irrelevancy and digression and reducing it to a kind of iconography of the late-20th-century soul.”
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In “I Remain in Darkness,” Ernaux chronicled her mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s. Released in English in 2000, and translated by Tanya Leslie, the book “details brilliantly, with all the unconscious acuity of actual presence, the miseries and the interdependencies, the frustration and the tedium, the toxic mix of devotion and revulsion that characterize for so many of us the long process of losing an elderly parent,” according to a review in The Washington Post.
Yale University Press is scheduled to publish a translation of Ernaux’s “Look at the Lights, My Love” in Fall 2023. John Donatich, director of Yale University Press said in a statement, “As a great admirer of Annie Ernaux’s extraordinary work, it is a particular pleasure for me to see her receive this global recognition. Her visionary nonfiction is a profound achievement, and it richly deserves the wide readership this prize will attract. Those many new readers are about to make a wonderful discovery.”
Ernaux’s work has also been adapted to film. An adaptation of “The Happening,” directed by Audrey Diwan, received the 2021 Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, and 2020′s “Simple Passion” was a Cannes Film Festival selection. Ernaux is also a filmmaker. “The Super 8 Years” is a 60-minute film she made with her son David Ernaux-Briot composed of old home movies. She will be presenting the movie at the New York Film Festival next week.
The New Republic recently described Ernaux as “a perennial front-runner” for the Nobel Prize “who never quite crosses the line,” but suggested that in selecting her the Academy might “make a principled statement about reproductive rights,” especially given her work in “The Happening.” In response to an audience question on whether the choice was a political one, Ellen Mattson, a representative of the Academy said, “We concentrate on literature and literary quality,” before adding, “The message is that this is literature for everyone.”
The Nobel Prize for literature is awarded annually by the 18-member Swedish Academy. It typically recognizes an author’s full body of work, though the academy has singled out individual works by laureates on nine occasions. This year, the prize is worth roughly $913 thousand.
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Nominations for the literature prize, which are kept secret for 50 years, can be submitted by members of the academy and its peer institutions, literature and linguistics professors, previous laureates, and the presidents of national literary societies. A smaller committee narrows that list down twice, ultimately furnishing the Academy with a list of five possible candidates each year. After reviewing and discussing the works of nominees on this list, the Academy selects a winner in October.
Last year, Abdulrazak Gurnah, a Tanzanian-born novelist who writes primarily in English, won the prize. It was granted “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
In response to an audience question at the 2022 announcement about the Nobel Prize’s general focus on European writers, Mattson said, “We have many different criteria, and you cannot satisfy all of them.” Stressing again that literary quality was most important to the committee, he went on, “One year, we gave the prize to a non-European writer, last year, Abdulrazak Gurnah. This year, we give the prize to a woman.” Ernaux is the 17th woman to win the prize.
The 2022 awards ceremony will take place on Dec. 10 in Stockholm.
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