The Senegalese novelist Mohamed Mbougar Sarr has become the first writer from sub-Saharan Africa to be awarded France’s oldest and most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt.
The award, announced on Wednesday at the Drouant restaurant near the Opéra Garnier in Paris, was hailed as “symbolic” by the French literary establishment, 100 years after the prize – presented since 1867 – was first won by a Black author.
His novel, La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (The Most Secret Memory of Men), tells the story of a young Senegalese writer living in Paris who stumbles by chance across a novel published in 1938 by a fictional African author named TC Elimane, nicknamed “the Black Rimbaud” by an ecstatic Paris media.
The jury of seven men and three women “made its mind up on the first vote – there was not need for a second round”, said another jury member, Paule Constant. “This book is written in flamboyant style. It’s a hymn to literature.”
The Prix Goncourt is worth just €10 but guarantees renown and massive book sales. Previous winners, who include Marcel Proust, André Malraux, Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras, have seen novels rack up sales of 400,000 copies. Last year’s winner, Hervé Le Tellier, sold more than a million.