Five Things You Need to Know About Nobel Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich
Svetlana Alexievich was doing the ironing when she got the call: Congratulations, you are the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. Her response was a single word: "Fantastic."
According to Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Alexievich, a Belarusian author known for her deeply humanist books, is "mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual. But it's not really a history of events. It's a history of emotions." Alexievich has written about Chernobyl in Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster), the Afghanistan War in Zinky Boys, and women in World War II in War's Unwomanly Face.
Here's some more you need to know about Svetlana Alexievich:
- She's part of an elite club: Alexievich is the 14th woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature—it has been awarded 107 times. Half of those wins have been in the past 25 years. (In 2013 Alice Munro won.)
- Her early years were a struggle: In 1983 Alexievich completed her bestseller, War's Unwomanly Face, which gathers the voices of 200 Soviet women who went to war in 1941. It was destroyed by the Communist Party for "de-glorification of the heroic Soviet woman." Two years later, Gorbachev took office and the political climate changed. The book was finally published and has since sold more than 2 million copies.
- She speaks for the people: Each of her books is a distillation of interviews with 500 to 700 different people. "I don’t ask people about socialism, I ask about love, jealousy, childhood, old age,” Alexievich writes. “Music, dances, hairstyles. The myriad sundry details of a vanished way of life. This is the only way to chase the catastrophe into the framework of the mundane and attempt to tell a story."
- The Nobel Prize is not just about glory!: The prize money of 8 million Swedish krona ($971,000) has given her "freedom", says Alexievich, who will be working on two new books.
- She has heroes: Alexievich cites Ales Adamovich as a primary influence. The Belarusian author wrote what he called "collective" novels. Nurse and author Sofia Fedorchenko's accounts of soldiers' experiences during the First World War were also an important influence.
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