This morning, Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Alexievich won't just walk away with a glittering medal and eight million Swedish Krona (roughly $970,000). She's now a member of the world's most elite literary club. Here are five things to know about her:
She writes poignantly about war and disaster in eastern Europe
Her work is both journalistic and lyrical, with a focus on ordinary citizens who lived through extraordinary circumstances. Her first book, War’s Unwomanly Face, is based on interviews with women who played a part in World War II. Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told The Guardian that Alexievich broke ground by considering war "from a perspective that was, before that book, almost completely unknown."
In her best-known book, Voices From Chernobyl, Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people who witnessed the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The book is both a triumph of journalism and an outcry against the disaster’s terrible human cost.
She’s one of the only nonfiction writers to win a Nobel
While the Nobel committee loves poetry and prose, it rarely gives a nod to nonfiction writers like Alexievich. In fact, Philip Gourevitch points out for The New Yorker, it’s been more than a half century since any journalist or essayist won the prize.
Her work was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film
The Door, a short film by director Juanita Wilson, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013. The movie was based on Alexievich's Monologue About a Whole Life Written Down on Doors, a testimony from a man who stole a door from his own home after the Chernobyl disaster.
She's a harsh critic of Vladimir Putin
Alexievich, who was born in Ukraine, used her prize to criticize Russia's "foreign invasion." Her frank critiques of Soviet-era policies, as well as the present-day governments of Russia and Belarus, have had dire consequences; she was banned from public appearances in her home country, had her phone tapped and spent more than a decade living in exile, BBC reports.
Listening is her secret weapon
As the pioneer of a genre that blends oral history with lyricism, Alexievich pays careful attention to others' voices. The Los Angeles Times’ David L. Ulin writes that the "starkly practical" journalist finds inspiration everywhere:
"You might say," she explained at PEN World Voices, "that my work is just simply lying on the ground and I go and I gather it and I pick it up and I put it together. If Flaubert said ‘I am a man of the pen — or the plume,’ I could say of myself that I am a person of the ear."