This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to the Belarusian writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.
Announcing the prize in Stockholm, the chair of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, called Svetlana Alexievich’s writing “a monument to courage and suffering in our time”.
The award, presented to a living writer, is worth 8 million kronor ($1.1 million).
Previous winners include literary heavyweights Rudyard Kipling and Ernest Hemingway. French historical author Patrick Modiano won in 2014.
It has been half a century since a writer working primarily in non-fiction won the Nobel – and Svetlan Alexievich is the first journalist to win the award.
Her best-known works in English translation include Voices From Chernobyl, an oral history of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe; and Boys In Zinc, a collection of first-hand accounts from the Soviet-Afghan war. The title refers to the zinc coffins in which the dead came home.
Boys In Zinc caused controversy and outrage when it was first published in Russia, where reviewers called it a “slanderous piece of fantasy” and part of a “hysterical chorus of malign attacks”.
Svetlana Alexievich has also been critical of the Belarusian government, leading to a period of persecution – in which her telephone was bugged and she was banned from making public appearances.
She spent 10 years in exile from 2000, living in Italy, France, Germany and Sweden, among other places, before moving back to Minsk.
Svetlana Alexievich was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, then known as Stanislav, to a Belarusian father and Ukrainian mother.
The family moved to Belarus after her father completed his military service, and Svetlana Alexievich studied journalism at the University of Minsk between 1967 and 1972.
After graduation, she worked as a journalist for several years before publishing her first book, War’s Unwomanly Face, in 1985.
Based on interviews with hundreds of women who participated in the World War Two, it set a template for her future works, constructing narratives from witnesses to some the world’s most devastating events.
On her personal website, Svetlana Alexievich explains her pursuit of journalism: “I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves.”
She has previously won the Swedish PEN prize for her “courage and dignity as a writer”.
Sara Danius said Svetlana Alexievich had spent nearly 40 years studying the people of the former Soviet Union, but that her work was not only about history but “something eternal, a glimpse of eternity”.
“By means of her extraordinary method – a carefully composed collage of human voices – Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era,” the Swedish Academy added.
Svetlana Alexievich was the bookmakers’ favorite to win 2015 Nobel award, according to Ladbrokes.
She beat other hot favorites Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Kenyan novelist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.
Svetlana Alexievich is the 14th woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in its history.
A total of 112 individuals have won it between 1901 and 2015. The prize was suspended several times during the first and second world wars.