Svetlana Alexievich Wins 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature

by Melissa Ragsdale

The Swedish Academy has just awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich. The 14th woman — and one of few nonfiction writers — to receive the award, Alexievich is known for giving a voice to individuals across the former Soviet Union using a unique “polyphonic” style to bring humanity and emotion to history.

In her 40 years of work, Alexievich’s writing has included the stories of people who lived through the 1979–1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, survivors of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, and the Russian women who participated in WWII. Utilizing thousands of interviews, deep investigative journalism, and a literary style, Alexievich has created her own unique genre of writing. Her notable books include War’s Unwomanly Face (1985), Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (1989), and Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (2006). Her most recent book, Second-Hand Time, is due in English in 2016 and consists of monologues from people looking back on their lives under Soviet rule.

Permanent Secretary Sara Danius of the Swedish Academy praised Alexievich’s writing: “For the past 30 or 40 years she’s been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual. But it’s not really a history of events. It’s a history of emotions. What she’s offering us is really an emotional world.”

The Nobel prize includes a gold medal and a $1.2-million cash prize. Alexievich was ironing clothes at home when she received the call that she had won. She reports that this money will allow her to stay financially sound as she continues her writing, saying “I will do one thing with the money: I’ll buy freedom.”

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