Meet five French women authors who celebrate the feminine experience

Meet five French women authors who celebrate the feminine experience

Annie Ernaux: The winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize for literature, Annie Ernaux (82) is a memorialist known for her confessional, autobiographical accounts of female experience, including love and desire. Born into a working-class family, Ernaux grew up in Normandy, northern France, before becoming a teacher and professor of literature. She has published about 20 odd books with Éditions Gallimard. They include La Place (1983, published in English as The Man’s Place); Passion simple (A Simple Passion, 1991, adapted for the screen by Danièle Arbid in 2021); L’Événement (Happening, 2000, adapted for the screen by Audrey Diwan in 2021); Les Années (The Years, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize); Mémoire de fille (A Girl’s Story, 2016) and Le Jeune homme (The Young Man, 2021). In 2011, her books were brought together in a compendium, Écrire la vie (Writing Life). Ernaux’ work has garnered numerous literary awards, including the Formentor Prize and the Berlin Academy Award in 2019. In her works,  translated into more than 40 languages, Ernaux broaches a host of taboo subjects, including abortion and female sexual passion, offering us detailed, and sometimes a bit disturbing, accounts of her lived experiences.

Camille Laurens: An award-winning French novelist and essayist, Camille Laurens (65) received the Prix Femina, one of France’s most prestigious literary prizes, in 2000 for Dans ces bras-là, published in English as In His Arms (2004). The book revolves around love in all its myriad guises: “first love and married love; secret love and adulterous love; frenzied, embarrassed, speechless love.” It was a publishing phenomenon in France, where it ignited a conversation across women of all ages because it has echoes of Marguerite Duras’s semi-autobiographical and haunting tale of a tumultuous love affair, The Lover (1984), and Susan Minot’s Rapture (2002), a passionate and intense story of two estranged lovers who resuscitate their affair. Since 1991, Laurens has written about 20 books, including Philippe (1995), Love: A Novel (2003), Who You Think I Am (2016) and Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (2017).  Who You Think I Am was adapted into a film by French director Safy Nebbou, starring Juliette Binoche. It is about a ballet student at the Paris Opera, who inspired Edgar Degas’s famous wax sculpture. Her latest book, Girl (2020), is a personal account of being a girl, woman, and mother in a world that tends to see the feminine as lesser beings. Laurens’ novels have been translated into more than 30 languages.

Also read: Roald Dahl’s deviance, grey moral convictions must not be whitewashed

Olivia Ruiz: Olivia Ruiz (43) wears several hats. Besides being an author, she is a songwriter, pop singer and actress. Of Spanish origin, she grew up in Marseillette in southern France. Three of her grandparents, who fled the Spanish civil war, never spoke about their experience; a silence shrouded the trauma. This silence shaped her first novel, La Commode aux tiroirs de couleurs (The Dresser with Coloured Drawers), the story of a family in exile from Spain, published by JC Lattès in 2020, which won over half a million readers. It’s the story of rebellion born of uprootedness, which combines family tragedy with torments of history. When her grandmother dies, a young woman inherits the intriguing chest of drawers that fueled all her little girl fantasies. One night, when she opens the drawers, what unrolls is the thread of secrets that sealed the fate of four generations of indomitable women, and of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Her second novel, Écoute la pluie tomber (Listen to the Rain Fall), JC Lattès, 2022, also draws on her family history. They revolve around strong women who challenge their fate and take control of their lives.

Lisa Mandel: Lisa Mandel (45), a comic-books author, is known for her kids series (Nini Patalo, Eddy Milveux) as well as adult graphic novels. She was born in Marseille and studied at the École supérieure des arts décoratifs in Strasbourg. In 2009, she won the Artemisia award, which seeks to reward female graphic artists, along with Tanxxx, another author. In 2016, she published Sociorama (Casterman). According to her publisher, it combines comics with sociology; “fictions rooted in the realities of the field.” This was done along with Yassmine Bouagga. With the latter, she has also published Les nouvelles de la jungle de Calais (Casterman, 2017), a graphic novel about everyday life in the refugee camps of Calais in northern France. She has written Un automne à Beyrouth (Delcourt, 2018), based on her several trips to Lebanon. Since 2019, she has been working on a web-series called Une année exemplaire, where she publishes one page every day, telling us about her experiments to get rid of various addictions. In 2020, she launched her own publishing house, Exemplaire.

Also read: Talat Mahmood: Trailblazer with a velvet voice, a gentle mould-breaker

Laura Nsafou: The works by Laura Nsafou (30), also known as Mrs Roots, are steeped in race, classism and sexism. Through her various projects, the afrofeminist blogger challenges antiblackness and seeks for a fair representation of black women in French culture. The founder of the Afrolab workshop, Laura is the author of Comme un million de papillons noirs (Like A Million Black Butterflies) published by Editions Cambourakis, which has been reprinted 11 times. Having experienced racism at school, Nsafou was approached by the French publishing house, Bilibok, to write a book based on a Toni Morrison quote from God Help the Child (2015), a fairytale with shades of Brothers Grimm: “Her clothes were white, her hair like a million black butterflies asleep on her head.” Nsafou drew on her past experience to write the illustrated book. For her, the goal was to write a book about bullying and race that would bring a “more accurate representation of a black girl dealing with her hair and facing others.”

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