Prix Renaudot winners become "mega-stars overnight" in France.
Mabanckou is such a celebrity in France that a French television crew accompanied him to his first day of class last month at UCLA.
By Meg Sullivan
A French/Congolese writer who is teaching this year at UCLA has been selected for the French equivalent of the National Book Award.
Alain Mabanckou, who has been called "the most prolific contemporary writer in the French language," has been selected to receive the Renaudot Prize for his latest novel — "Mémoire de Porc-épic" (Memoirs of a Porcupine).
One of France's two most important literary prizes, the Renaudot each year recognizes best original novel written in the French language. Announced today in Paris, the award guarantees celebrity and commercial success.
"Winning one of these awards in France makes an author a mega-star overnight," said Dominic Thomas, chair of the UCLA French and Francophone Department.
Born in Congo-Brazzaville (formerly French Congo, now the Republic of the Congo), Mabanckou is revered in the French-speaking world for celebrating African life and politics in a humorous and tragic way.
"Mémoire de Porc-épic," which was released in September, is a contemporary fable based on an African belief that each human being has an animal alter ego.
Even before winning the Renaudot, the author, who is virtually unknown in the United States, was poised for new prominence. Three of his novels are scheduled to come out in English over the next year. They are "Bleu Blanc Rouge" (Blue White Red), originally published in French in 1998; "African Psycho" (African Psycho), published in French in 2003; and "Verre Cassé" (Broken Glass), published in French in 2005.
During the 2006-07 academic year at UCLA, Mabanckou is teaching courses in French and Francophone studies and comparative literature. Having been nominated last year as well for the Prix Renaudot, Mabanckou is such a celebrity in France that a French television crew accompanied him to his first day of class last month at UCLA.
The UCLA Department of French and Francophone Studies is known for its strength in literary studies relating to authors from or works about past or present French colonies.
"We emphasize the 'global' dimension of French studies and encourage our students to discover its long, rich, and varied heritage," Thomas said. "Alain Mabanckou's presence as both a scholar and a writer on campus provides UCLA undergraduate and graduate students with a unique opportunity to study African literature from one of his generation's most exciting practitioners."
In light of the announcement, the campus is planning a public reading by Mabanckou for next week. Details are pending.