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Annie Ernaux, the “Voice of Women’s Freedom,” wins Nobel Prize in Literature

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French author Annie Ernaux has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature for “courage and clinical acuity.” Anders Olsson, chair of the literature committee, said about the book that the author used autobiographical stories that unveil the contradictions of social experiences and describe shame, humiliation, and jealousy or the inability to see who you are.

Anders Olsson appreciated Ernaux’s work, saying it was “uncompromising and written in a language, scraped clean.” He further said that the 82-year-old author has accomplished something “admirable and enduring.” The panel said that her work was an “uncompromising 50-year body of work exploring a life marked by great disparities regarding gender, language, and class.”

Ernaux describes her writing style as flat, a very objective view of the events written, defined by a non-decorative description or overwhelmed by emotions. She is the first French woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and said that winning the award encourages her “to continue the fight against injustice.”

The Background

Born in 1940 in Normandy, Ernaux was “poor but ambitious,” Olsson said. Her parents owned a café and grocery where she observed girls from middle-class families. Her website reads that when she used to see those girls, “she became ashamed of her working-class parents and milieu for the first time.” This fuelled her novels.

Her biography mentions her work as “the body and sexuality; intimate relationships; social inequality and the experience of changing class through education; time and memory; and the overarching question of how to write these life experiences.”

Ernaux studied literature and worked as an au pair in London. She married and had two children. She began teaching in a French secondary school, and it was during this time that she penned and published her first book in 1974. It was a fiction named Cleaned Out, which was about the illegal abortion she had in 1964 and kept a secret from her family.

In the early 1980s, she got divorced. She gave up teaching and focused on her writing in the 2000s. Her books such as The Years won the Prix Renaudot in France in 2008, the Premio Strega in Italy in 2016, and her life’s work was awarded the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize in 2017.

Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux
Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux wrote over 20 books based on her own life.

The Voice of Freedom

In her book, Happening, she talks about the trauma she experienced 25 years ago. She “sifts through her memories and her journal entries dating from those days.” A film was made based on this book that won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival last year.

In 2020, the New Yorker wrote that in over 20 of her books “she has been devoted to a single task: the excavation of her own life.”

Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, complemented Ernaux, saying her voice is for “the freedom of women and the forgotten.” Dan Simon, Ernaux’s publisher in the US, said “she has stood up for herself as a woman, as someone who came from the French working class, unbowed, for decade after decade.”

Other winners

Last year, the Nobel Prize for Literature was won by the UK-based Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah. Other writers who were awarded include Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Toni Morrison, among many others.

In physics, three scientists, namely, Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser, and Austrian Anton Zeilinger, jointly won the Nobel prize on Tuesday for demonstrating a phenomenon called quantum entanglement, where tiny particles retain connections even when separated.

On Wednesday, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Americans Carolyn R. Bertozzi and K. Barry Sharpless and Danish researcher Morten Meldal for showing molecules that can be used to explore cells, map DNA, and design drugs that cure cancer.

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics will be announced on Monday.

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