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J. M. G. Le Clézio
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (French: [ʒɑ̃ maʁi ɡystav lə klezjo]; born 13 April 1940), usually identified as J. M. G. Le Clézio, is a French writer and professor. The author of over forty works, he was awarded the 1963 Prix Renaudot for his novel Le Procès-Verbal and the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature for his life's work, as an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization".
Le Clézio's mother was born in the French Riviera city of Nice, his father on the island of Mauritius (which was a British possession, but his father was ethnically Breton). Both his father's and his mother's ancestors were originally from Morbihan, on the south coast of Brittany. His paternal ancestor François Alexis Le Clézio fled France in 1798 and settled with his wife and daughter on Mauritius, which was then a French colony but would soon pass into British hands. The colonists were allowed to maintain their customs and use of the French language. Le Clézio has never lived in Mauritius for more than a few months at a time, but he has stated that he regards himself both as a Frenchman and a Mauritian. He has dual French and Mauritian citizenship (Mauritius gained independence in 1968) and calls Mauritius his "little fatherland".
Le Clézio was born in Nice, his mother's native city, during World War II when his father was serving in the British Army in Nigeria. He was raised in Roquebillière, a small village near Nice until 1948 when he, his mother, and his brother boarded a ship to join his father in Nigeria. His 1991 novel Onitsha is partly autobiographical. In a 2004 essay, he reminisced about his childhood in Nigeria and his relationship with his parents.
After studying at the University of Bristol in England from 1958 to 1959, he finished his undergraduate degree at Nice's Institut d'études littéraires. In 1964 Le Clézio earned a master's degree from the University of Provence with a thesis on Henri Michaux.
After several years spent in London and Bristol, he moved to the United States to work as a teacher. During 1967 he served as an aid worker as part of his national service in Thailand, but was quickly expelled from the country for protesting against child prostitution and sent to Mexico to finish his national service. From 1970 to 1974, he lived with the Embera-Wounaan tribe in Panama. He has been married since 1975 to Jémia, who is Moroccan, and has three daughters (one by his first marriage). Since the 1990s they have divided their residence between Albuquerque, Mauritius, and Nice.
In 1983 he wrote a doctoral thesis on colonial Mexican history for the University of Perpignan, on the conquest of the Purépecha people who inhabit the present day state of Michoacán. It was serialized in a French magazine and published in Spanish translation in 1985.
He has taught at a number of universities around the world. A frequent visitor to South Korea, he taught French language and literature at Ewha Womans University in Seoul during the 2007 academic year.
Le Clézio began writing at the age of seven; his first work was a book about the sea. He achieved success at the age of 23, when his first novel, Le Procès-Verbal (The Interrogation), was the Prix Renaudot and was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt. Since then he has published more than thirty-six books, including short stories, novels, essays, two translations on the subject of Native American mythology, and several children's books.
From 1963 to 1975, Le Clézio explored themes such as insanity, language, nature and writing. He devoted himself to formal experimentation in the wake of such contemporaries as Georges Perec or Michel Butor. His persona was that of an innovator and a rebel, for which he was praised by Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.
During the late 1970s, Le Clézio's style changed drastically; he abandoned experimentation, and the mood of his novels became less tormented as he used themes like childhood, adolescence, and traveling, which attracted a broader audience. In 1980, Le Clézio was the first winner of the newly created Grand Prix Paul Morand, awarded by the Académie Française, for his novel Désert. In 1994, a survey conducted by the French literary magazine Lire showed that 13 percent of the readers considered him to be the greatest living French language writer.
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2008 went to Le Clézio for works characterized by the Swedish Academy as being "poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy" and for being focused on the environment, especially the desert. The Swedish Academy, in announcing the award, called Le Clézio an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization." Le Clézio used his Nobel prize acceptance lecture to attack the subject of information poverty. The title of his lecture was Dans la forêt des paradoxes ("In the forest of paradoxes"), a title he attributed to Stig Dagerman.
Gao Xingjian, a Chinese émigré, was the previous French citizen to receive the prize (for 2000); Le Clézio was the first French-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature since Claude Simon for 1985, and the fourteenth since Sully Prudhomme, laureate of the first prize of 1901.
He is a staunch defender of Mama Rosa, director of a Mexican shelter raided by the police in July 2014 when children were found eating rotten food and kept against the will of their parents. He wrote an article in Le Monde arguing that she is close to sanctity.
Awards and honors