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Svetlana Alexievich wins 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature

Svetlana Alexievich wins 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature
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Svetlana Alexievich has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Belarusian was announced as the winner in Stockholm today, at 1pm local time. She is the 14th woman to be awarded the prize.

The writer, who made her name as an investigative journalist, had been chosen from a list of 198 candidates, put forward by hundreds of official nominators, including literary professors, members of the Swedish Academy and former Nobel laureates.

The announcement was made by Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. Danius said that Alexievich had been chosen "for her polyphonic writings: a monument to suffering and courage in our time".

For readers unfamiliar with Alexievich's work, Danius recommended War's Unwomanly Face (1985, first published in English in 1988), which is based on interviews with hundreds of Soviet women who participated in the Second World War. Danius described it as “an unknown history” that “brings you very close to every single individual”. Alexievich had immortalised the voices of these women: “In a few years, all of them will be gone."

Alexievich, on learning that she was the winner of this year's prize, replied with a single word: "Fantastic!"

This year's award has, in Danius’ words, "widened" the concept of literature. Alexievich, she said, had “devised a new kind of literary genre,” achieving brilliance “not just in material, but in form". Danius praised her writing "for exploring the soviet individual [...] She has conducted thousands and thousands of interviews with women, with children and with men. She is offering a history of emotions, a history of the soul.”

Svetlana Alexievich was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, to a Ukrainian mother and a Belarusian father. The family moved to Belarus after her father had finished his military service; Svetlana attended finishing school before working as a teacher and a journalist in Belarus.

War’s Unwomanly Face was the first in Alexievich’s grand cycle of books, known as “Voices of Utopia”, in which she portrayed the Soviet Union from the perspective of the individual. She later applied her revolutionary historical method, a collage of painstakingly collected human voices, to the Chernobyl disaster (Voices from Chernobyl, 1997, first published in English in 1997) and the USSR’s war in Afghanistan (Zinky Boys, 1990, first published in English in 1992).

112 writers have received the Nobel Prize in Literature since the annual award was established in 1901. Recent winners include Patrick Modiano, Alice Munro, Mo Yan and Tomas Tranströmer.

Each year’s nominees are judged on the entirety of their literary career. The winner must be deemed by the Swedish Academy to have produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”, as stipulated by Alfred Nobel in his will. The nominations and the opinions written by the members of the Nobel Committee in Literature each year are kept secret for 50 years. Danius, who was appointed Permanent Secretary in June this year, is the first woman to hold this prestigious position.

This judgment is often controversial. In the early years of the award, an “ideal direction” was taken to imply a “lofty and sound idealism” – a reading that damaged the chances of less “idealistic” writers. Staunch, conservative idealists like Paul Heyse and Rudyard Kipling were awarded the prize, while writers like Mark Twain and Émile Zola were overlooked. After being repeatedly snubbed by the academy, the iconoclastic writer August Strindberg was awarded an anti-Nobel prize by his supporters in 1912.

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is always notoriously difficult to predict. However, this year seems to have bucked the trend. As of yesterday, most bookmakers were ranking either Alexievich or Kenyan novelist and playwright Ngugi Wa Thiong'o as the most likely to win – although Haruki Murakami was popular among punters.

By The Telegraph 


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