On this day in 2015, the Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to Belarusian journalist and author Svetlana Alexievich. She was the 14th woman to be awarded the prize.
During Alexievich’s career, she has covered the Chernobyl disaster and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. She’s best known for compiling oral histories of people who experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union firsthand. The judges awarded Alexievich the prize “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, expanded on the committee’s decision, saying, “These historical events she’s covering in her various books … are, in a way, just pretexts for exploring the Soviet individual and the post-Soviet individual. […] She’s … offering us a history of emotions, a history of the soul.” Alexievich received the call at her home, while she was doing the ironing. She says her reaction to the news was complicated, since the prize evoked memories of other Nobel Prize-winning Russian writers like Boris Pasternak.
“I don’t ask people about socialism; I ask about love, jealousy, childhood, old age,” Alexievich writes in her book Second-hand Time (2016). “Music, dances, hairstyles. The myriad sundry details of a vanished way of life. This is the only way to chase the catastrophe into the framework of the mundane and attempt to tell a story.”