Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr wins prestigious Goncourt Prize

Senegal  AFPBertrand Guay
NOV 3, 2021 LISTEN
© AFP/Bertrand Guay

The Prix Goncourt, France's leading literature prize, was awarded on Wednesday to a young Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, with a novel exploring the destiny of a cursed African author.

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is only 31 years old, but was the critics' favourite among the nominees.

He becomes the first sub-Saharan African to win the most prestigious French award.

'No age in literature'

The 31-year-old writer received six votes in the first round, announced Goncourt secretary Philippe Claudel, for "The Most Secret Memory of Men" (La plus secrète mémoire des hommes), a novel inspired by the cursed destiny of the Malian writer Yambo Oulologuem.

"I feel so much joy," he said at the upmarket Parisian restaurant where the awards are traditionally announced.

"There is no age in literature. One can arrive very young, or at 67, at 30, at 70 and yet be very old," he added.

"With this young author, we have returned to the fundamentals of the Goncourt will," Philippe Claudel explained, noting that at 31, more works could be expected from Mbougar Sarr.

"This was done in the first round. It is written in a flamboyant way. It is a hymn to literature", said Paule Constant, another member of the jury.

The writer is the son of a Senegalese doctor and had been studying African literature at a top French university.

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr succeeds Hervé Le Tellier, whose novel L'Anomalie was awarded last year during a video conference ceremony, because of the Covid-19 health crisis.

Other votes went to Sorj Chalandon for Enfant de salaud and to Haitian Louis-Philippe Dalembert for "Milwaukee Blues". None went to Christine Angot for Le Voyage dans l'Est, which won the Médicis prize last week.

Prix Goncourt

The Goncourt is decided by a jury of seven men and three women, but laureates take just 10 euros in prize money.

The award however traditionally guarantees the sale of hundreds of thousands of books.

Herve Le Tellier's 2020 winner, L'Anomalie, a fantasy sci-fi thriller has already sold more than a million copies.

Belgian Amelie Nothomb meanwhile won the Prix Renaudot with her novel "Premier sang" (First blood) relating invented memories of her father who died last year.

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