Frenchman gets Nobel Prize for literature

Poetic adventure led to his award

French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio felt ''some kind of incredulity'' upon hearing the Nobel Prize news. French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio felt ''some kind of incredulity'' upon hearing the Nobel Prize news. (BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS)
By Matt Moore
Associated Press / October 10, 2008
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STOCKHOLM - France's Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature yesterday for works characterized by poetic explorations of the human spirit and the environment, especially the desert.

Le Clezio, 68, is the first French writer to win the prestigious award since Chinese-born Frenchman Gao Xingjian was honored in 2000 and the 14th since the Nobel Prizes began in 1901.

The decision was in line with the Swedish Academy's recent picks of European authors and followed days of vitriolic debate whether the jury was anti-American.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France hailed Le Clezio's prize as a sign of France's worldwide cultural influence.

"A child in Mauritius and Nigeria, a teenager in Nice, a nomad of the American and African deserts, Jean-Marie Le Clezio is a citizen of the world, the son of all continents and cultures," Sarkozy said. "He embodies the influence of France, its culture, and its values in a globalized world."

The academy called Le Clezio, who also holds Mauritian citizenship, an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

Le Clezio made his breakthrough as a novelist with "Desert," in 1980, a work the academy said "contains magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert contrasted with a depiction of Europe seen through the eyes of unwanted immigrants."

That novel, which also won Le Clezio a prize from the French Academy, is considered a masterpiece. It describes the ordeal of Lalla, a woman from the Tuareg nomadic tribe of the Sahara, as she adapts to civilization imposed by colonial France.

The Swedish Academy said Le Clezio from early on "stood out as an ecologically engaged author, an orientation that is accentuated with the novels 'Terra Amata,' 'The Book of Flights,' 'War' and 'The Giants.' "

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Le Clezio said he was very honored and felt waves of emotion upon hearing the news. He said he felt "some kind of incredulity, and then some kind of awe, and then some kind of joy and mirth."

Le Clezio has taught at Boston University, as well as colleges in Bangkok; Mexico City; Austin, Texas; and Albuquerque, N.M., among other cities.

Le Clezio was born in Nice in 1940 and at 8 the family moved to Nigeria, where his father was a doctor during World War II. They returned to France in 1950. Le Clezio tells the story of his father in the 2004 "L'Africain."

He has published several dozen books, including novels, essays and children's books. His most famous works are tales of nomads, mediations on the desert and childhood memories. He has also explored the mythologies of native Americans.

Le Clezio has spent much time living in New Mexico in recent years. He and his wife, Jemia, split their time between Albuquerque, Mauritius, and Nice.

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