First black female winner for France's top literary prize

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The Independent Culture

The French-Senegalese writer Marie NDiaye yesterday became the first black woman to win the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize.

NDiaye called the prize, worth a nominal €10 but far more in prestige and additional sales, an "unexpected reward for 25 years of persistence". She had previously won France's Femina literary prize, which is awarded by a jury of women.

Her prize-winning book Three Strong Women is a moving account of the struggles of women in Europe and Africa. It tells the story of Norah, Fanta and Khadi's fight to "preserve their dignity in the face of humiliations that life has inflicted," according to her publisher Gallimard.

Norah is a French lawyer with roots in West Africa; Fanta is a Senegalese woman living in France; and Khadi is a young Senegalese woman who tries to immigrate illegally to Europe.

"They are in very difficult situations," NDiaye said in an interview with Mediapart news website. "[But] they have a hard inner core that is absolutely unbreakable."

NDiaye has written a dozen books, from novels to short-story collections and plays. Born in 1967 in Pithiviers, south of Paris, to a French mother and a Senegalese father, she now lives in Berlin. One of four authors whose books were up for the prize, she told France-2 television she was "very happy to be a female recipient of the Goncourt".

"I've been writing for 25 years, I'm no longer a beginner, so I have enough experience behind me to be able to take this all in with calm," she said.

The 105-year-old Prix Goncourt guarantees literary acclaim and high sales for the winning author. Past recipients include Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras.