For only the 14th time in its 111 year history, the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to a woman, and for the first time, to a journalist working strictly in the nonfiction genre: Svetlana Alexievich, from Belarus. In her highly intimate and very human works, Ms. Alexievich collects hundreds of interviews chronicling the affects of large scale, international conflicts (such as World War II, the Soviet War and the Chernobyl disaster) on the lives of everyday Russians.
Sarah Danius, Secretary of the Swedish Academy, said of Ms. Alexievich’s work: “For the past 30 or 40 years she has been busy mapping the Soviet and post Soviet individual, but it’s not really about a history of events. It’s a history of emotions—what she’s offering us is really an emotional world.”
Ms. Alexievich was born in 1948 in the Ukraine, but the family moved back to Belarus once her father completed his military service. She studied journalism at the University of Minsk, and worked as a teacher and journalist at local newspapers in Brest and Minsk; she currently has offices at the independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva. Some of her books currently published in the United States include War’s Unwomanly Face and Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.
Ms. Alexievich was at home ironing when she got the call from the Swedish Academy. Her first reaction, according to an interview with Swedish television SVT, was mixed: “It’s an incredibly complex sentiment. On the one side, it’s such a fantastic feeling but it’s also disturbing.” Later though, at a news conference at her office, she added, ““It’s not just an award for me, but for our culture, our small country.”