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5 Things to Know About Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Laureate in Literature

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Svetlana Alexievich was named the 2015 Nobel Laureate in literature on Thursday, earning a new level of global fame and exposure for her work. If like many others you haven’t heard of her before, here are a few facts about the Belarusian writer and journalist:

  • Background: Alexievich is Belarusian, but was born in Ukraine in 1948. (Her mother is Ukrainian.) When her father finished his military service, the family moved back to Belarus, where Alexievich studied journalism at the University of Minsk, according to the BBC.
  • Subject matter: She focuses on stories about war, conflict and tragedy, often using the Soviet Union or former Soviet countries as the backdrop. She has written about World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War and the Chernobyl disaster.
  • Approach: Alexievich is a master of oral histories, interviewing soldiers, women and civilians about their experiences and rendering their stories in a literary form. “I’ve been searching for a genre that would be most adequate to my vision of the world to convey how my ear hears and my eyes see life,” she writes on her website. “I tried this and that and finally I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves.”
  • Controversy: Her criticism of the Belarusian government led to a period of persecution that included a phone tap and a ban on making public appearances. Because of this, she lived abroad for 10 years, mostly in Western Europe.
  • Nobel legacy: Alexievich becomes only the 14th woman to win the Nobel in literature, the first journalist and the first writer of primarily non-fiction to win in the last half-century.
  • Alexievich will receive her award at the Nobel ceremony on Dec. 10; Picador, which published the trade paperback edition of her book Voices From Chernobyl in English, said on Thursday that it has gone back to press on the edition, and it will also get an e-book release and a limited-run cloth edition from Dalkey Archive Press.

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