Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nobel Prize Awarded to French Writer

Last week, Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, caused a ruckus. Because of his position, Engdahl plays a major role in the Academy's annual choice of a winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The ruckus resorted from an interview he gave the AP, in which he declared Europe to be the literary center of the world, and declared that American writers were too "insular" and under the sway of popular culture to win the coveted prize. There was considerable outrage over these remarks from members of the American literary establishment who not only offered a list of US writers they considered worthy of consideration (Roth, Oates and DeLillo, among others), but also pointedly mentioned the veritable hall of fame of 20th century writers whom the Nobel committee never considered worthy of their honor: Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Borges, Nabokov, and Auden, for example.

Perhaps Engdahl was just laying the groundwork for today's announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio of France. And yes, as an Insular American, I must admit I've never heard of him.

Regardless of my ignorance, Le Clezio is evidently both well-known and highly regarded in his home country, a prolific author of fiction and essays for adults and children for more than forty years. He has traveled widely and lived in many different places, and much of his work centers around the ideas of home and exile. He also evidently wrote works with a high degree of environmental awareness, long before that became a normal thing to do. Little of his work seems to be currently available in this country in English editions, but I'm sure that will begin to change. By the way, Le Clezio currently maintains three residences, one of which is in Albuquerque, right here in the insular, pop-cultured-polluted USA.

For more about Le Clezio, you can check out the Nobel Committee's citation.

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