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Nobel Prize for literature awarded

  Not a shocker that an American did not win the Nobel Prize for literature after we were called too "insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world." The Associated Press released this story about the winner:

The Associated Press
  STOCKHOLM, Sweden — France’s Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio won the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for works characterized by "poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy" and focused on the environment, especially the desert.
  Le Clezio, 68, is the first French writer to win the prestigious award since Chinese-born Frenchman Gao Xingjian was honored in 2000 and the 14th since the Nobel Prizes began in 1901.
  The decision was in line with the Swedish Academy’s recent picks of European authors and followed days of vitriolic debate about whether the jury was anti-American.
  French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Le Clezio’s win as a sign of France’s worldwide cultural influence.
  "A child in Mauritius and Nigeria, a teenager in Nice, a nomad of the American and African deserts, Jean-Marie Le Clezio is a citizen of the world, the son of all continents and cultures," Sarkozy said. "A great traveler, he embodies the influence of France, its culture and its values in a globalized world."
  The academy called Le Clezio, who also holds Mauritian citizenship, an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."
  Le Clezio made his breakthrough as a novelist with "Desert," in 1980, a work the academy said "contains magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert contrasted with a depiction of Europe seen through the eyes of unwanted immigrants."
  That novel, which also won Le Clezio a prize from the French Academy, is considered a masterpiece. It describes the ordeal of Lalla, a woman from the Tuareg nomadic tribe of the Sahara Desert, as she adapts to civilization imposed by colonial France.
  The Swedish Academy said Le Clezio from early on "stood out as an ecologically engaged author, an orientation that is accentuated with the novels ‘Terra Amata,’ ‘The Book of Flights,’ ‘War’ and ‘The Giants.’"
  Speaking to reporters in Paris, Le Clezio said he was very honored and described feeling waves of emotion upon hearing the news.
"(I felt) some kind of incredulity, and then some kind of awe, and then some kind of joy and mirth," he said.
  Asked if he deserved the prize, he replied "Why not?"
  Le Clezio said he would attend the prize ceremony in December in Stockholm and was already planning to travel to Sweden later this month to receive another award — the Stig Dagerman prize, which honors efforts to promote the freedom of expression.
  Since Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe won the award in 1994, the selections have had a distinctively European flavor. Since then 12 Europeans, including Le Clezio and last year’s winner Doris Lessing of Britain, have won the prize.
  The last U.S. writer to win the prize was Toni Morrison in 1993.
  Last week, Academy Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl told The Associated Press that the United States is too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world. The comments ignited a fierce reaction across the Atlantic, where the head of the U.S. National Book Foundation offered to send Engdahl a reading list.
  "I was very surprised that the reaction was so violent. I don’t think that what I said was that derogatory or sensational," Engdahl told AP after Thursday’s prize announcement.
  He added his comments had been "perhaps a bit too generalizing."
  Asked how he thought the choice of Le Clezio would be received in the United States, he said he had no idea.
  "He’s not a particularly French writer, if you look at him from a strictly cultural point of view. So I don’t think this choice will give rise to any anti-French comments," he said. "I would be very sad if that was the case."
  Richard Howard, an award-winning poet who has translated many works from French, including a couple of early short stories by Le Clezio, called him "a very gifted and remarkable writer."
  "I loved the first books and I regard him with a great deal of respect and affection," Howard said.
  Le Clezio has spent much time living in New Mexico in recent years. He has long shied away from public life and often traveled, especially to the world’s deserts. The academy said he and his Moroccan wife, Jemia, split their time between Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mauritius and Nice.
  He has published several dozen books, including novels, essays and children’s books. His most famous works are tales of nomads, mediations on the desert and childhood memories. He has also explored the mythologies of native Americans.
  The academy said Le Clezio’s long stays in Mexico and Central America in the mid-70s had a decisive influence on his work.
Engdahl called Le Clezio a writer of great diversity.
  "He has gone through many different phases of his development as a writer and has come to include other civilizations, other modes of living than the Western, in his writing," Engdahl said.
  Le Clezio was born in Nice in 1940 and at eight the family moved to Nigeria, where his father had been a doctor during World War II. They returned to France in 1950. Le Clezio tells the story of his father in the 2004 "L’Africain."
  He studied English at Bristol University in 1958-59 and completed his undergraduate degree at the Institut d’etudes Litteraires in Nice. He went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Aix-en-Provence in 1964 and wrote a doctoral thesis on Mexico’s early history at the University of Perpignan in 1983.
  Le Clezio has taught at universities in Bangkok; Mexico City; Boston; Austin, Texas and Albuquerque among other places, the academy said.
  In Brussels, the European Commission said it was "delighted" that the award went to a European.
  Besides the 10 million kronor (US$1.4 million) check, Le Clezio will also receive a gold medal and be invited to lecture at the academy’s headquarters in Stockholm’s Old Town.
  The Nobel Prize in literature is handed out in Stockholm on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896 — along with the awards in medicine, chemistry, physics and economics. The Nobel Peace Prize is presented in Oslo, Norway.

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