J. M. G. Le Clézio – 2008

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-Mauritian writer and professor. The author of over forty works, he was awarded the 1963 Prix Renaudot for his novel Le Procès-Verbal.

Le Clézio was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature 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 in the French military in Thailand, but was quickly expelled from the country for protesting against child prostitution and sent to Mexico to finish his military obligation. 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 P’urhépecha people (formerly known as “Tarascans”) 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.