Russian Svetlana Alexievich is first journalist to win Nobel for literature
Russian writer Svetlana Alexievich is the recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize for literature, for a body of work that the Swedish Academy described as “a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” She is the first journalist to receive the award and the first nonfiction writer to be named in about half a century.
Alexievich, 67, is best known for her deeply researched books based on hundreds of interviews, such as War’s Unwomanly Face, about Russian women who served as soldiers in World War II. Published in 1985, it was censored in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev but sold millions of copies.
Her book best known in the United States is Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, which won the National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction in 2005. It is based on interviews with more than 500 survivors of the 1986 catastrophe, which killed Alexievich’s sister and blinded her mother.
In the announcement on Thursday, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, called Alexievich “an extraordinary writer. . . . She’s actually devised a new genre, a new kind of literary genre.
“It’s a true achievement not only in material but also in form,” she said. The award is worth about $960,000.
The Nobel committee has often been criticized for awarding the literature prize for political as well as artistic reasons. Alexievich’s work, essentially a sustained critique of Russia’s government, is more overtly political than that of any other Nobel laureate in recent years.
Born to a Belarussian father and a Ukrainian mother, Alexievich has been a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Ukraine. In an interview earlier this year, she said, “Putin is not a politician. Putin is a KGB agent. And whatever he does is provocations.”
Alexievich is the 14th woman to win the Nobel for literature and the sixth who writes in Russian. The last American to win the prize was novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.