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French School faculty member wins France's top literary prize

November 25, 2008

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-A member of the Middlebury French School faculty, Tierno Monénembo, has won France's 2008 Prix Renaudot literary prize for writing the best novel of the year.

Monénembo and his Le roi de Kahel (The King of Kahel) outdistanced Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, whose new book, Le Cas Sonderberg (The Sonderberg Case), was also a finalist for the Prix Renaudot.

Born in Guinea in 1947, Tierno Monénembo fled the dictatorship of Sékou Touré in 1969 and traveled on foot to reach Senegal. He arrived in France in 1973, and published his first novel, Les Crapauds-brousse (The Bush-Toads) in 1979.

Now a fulltime writer living in France, Monénembo has written 10 novels, including a number on oppression in Africa. His 1986 novel, Les écailles du ciel (Pieces of Heaven) was a finalist for the Grand Prix de l'Afrique Noire. He is best known in the United States for L'Aîné des orphelins (The Oldest Orphan) based on the Rwandan genocide, which was translated into English and published in both hard and soft cover by the University of Nebraska Press in 2004.

Monénembo is scheduled to return to Middlebury in 2009 to teach for his fourth summer in the French School. The director of the school, Aline Germain-Rutherford, said Middlebury is both "proud and fortunate" to have Monénembo teaching courses in African literature and creative writing to students in the French School. According to Germain-Rutherford, the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt are the top two literary honors in France and they are awarded every year on the same day in November.

During the summer of 2008, Monénembo presented a talk to the French School on his novel Le roi de Kahel and the life of his main character, the 19th-century French adventurer Aimé Victor Olivier, the vicomte de Sanderval (1840-1919). Click here to watch and hear (in French) Monénembo's presentation.

The Prix Renaudot is named for Théophraste Renaudot (1586?-1653), the founder of the influential weekly newspaper "La Gazette" (later "La Gazette de France"). The prize was established in 1925, and previous winners include Michel del Castillo, Édouard Glissant, Michel Butor, and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.