annie ernaux nobel prize in literature winner 2022

Annie Ernaux: Nobel Prize in Literature Winner 2022

Nobel Prize in Literature is the highest physical felicitation that a writer can get for their hard work. Annie Ernaux was awarded with this milestone on Thursday (6/10/2022). There are 6 categories under the Nobel Prize – Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economics.

As a writer to win a Nobel Prize is somewhat a dream that we have but we don’t believe in as every writer is exceptional in their own way. This year, Annie Ernaux, a French writer, has been awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. The 82-year-old author is well-known for works that straddle the boundary between memoir and fiction.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2022 was awarded to Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”. Ernaux is the 16th French writer and the first Frenchwoman to earn the Nobel Prize in Literature. In praising her, French President Emmanuel Macron said she was the voice of “women’s emancipation and the forgotten.”

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Ernaux was born in Lillebonne, Normandy, and grew up in Yvetot, where her parents had a café and grocery store in a working-class neighborhood. In 1960, she moved to London to work as an au pair, an event she recounted in her 2016 memoir Mémoire de fille (A Girl’s Story). When she returned to France, she studied at the universities of Rouen and Bordeaux, became a teacher, and got a master’s degree in modern literature in 1971. She worked on an unfinished thesis research on Pierre de Marivaux for a while.

Les Armoires vides (Cleaned Out), her first book, was published in 1974 and was an autobiographical story about procuring an abortion while it was still illegal in France. She authored the book undercover. In one of her interviews, she stated that her husband used to make fun of her manuscript, so she would hide behind the excuse that she was working on her Ph.D. thesis. Her initial novel, “Les Armoires Vides,” was published in 1974, but she rose to international prominence with the release of “Les Années” in 2008, which was translated into English as “The Years” in 2017.

She has an enigmatic writing style as she writes her memories in the forms of fiction – The timelines her books are set in are conservative compared to her themes. She is different; her mind works differently than ours. While we trust our memories of past and revisit them time to time – she writes them down because being a unique memoirist in that she doubts her own recall. 

She writes in the first person, then abruptly turns to speaking about herself from afar, referring to previous selves as “the girl of ’58” or “the girl of S.” She appears to be looking at herself in an old image or a scene from a movie at times. She tells us when she gets lost in the story and when her memory fails her. Ernaux unpacks the past rather than revealing it—she does not pretend to have authoritative access to it. “What is the aim of writing if not to unearth things?” she asks.

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Her style blends the minimalist and the unsparing in this attempt at digging. She seemed to be desperate to document everything: period blood, abortions, contraceptive pills, dirty underwear, erections, and semen. Ernaux’s writing, on the other hand, is rubbed down, plain, and almost clinical in its precision. She Googles and questions, revisits old haunts and reads old letters, as if she were a detective solving an unsolved case: the mystery of her own past.

She has previously stated that writing is a political act that exposes societal inequalities. “And for this reason, she employs language as a ‘knife,’ as she refers to it, to sever the veils of imagination,” according to the academy. The academy described the book as “her most ambitious endeavor, which has won her an international renown and a slew of supporters and literary disciples.” The academy noted of “The Years” that Ernaux mixes personal and collective memory by substituting “the spontaneous recall of the individual with the third person of collective memory.”

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