Gao Xingjian

THE LAUREATE: Gao Xingjian was born in the 1940 in Jianxi, China. He studied French in college and eventually became a professional translator, after spending time as a laborer for the Go Down Into the Country movement. During the 80s, he emigrated to France not long before all his work was banned in China after the Tiananmen Square unpleasantness.

WHAT I’M READING: The stories in Buying a Fishing Rod For My Grandfather, although apparently I should be reading Soul Mountain. Oops.

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J. M. Coetzee

THE LAUREATE: J. M. Coetzee was born in 1940 in Cape Town, South Africa. He was largely an academic, teaching in the United States and South Africa until his retirement to Adelaide, Australia, where he is an honorary professor of literature. In addition to his novels, he is a prominent translator of Dutch and Africaans literature, and holds a Ph.D. in Germanic linguistics.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH HIM: I read two of his books before this, Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace. I liked them well enough when I was reading them, but when I thought about them later, I was kind of squicked out by what a prominent role older male authority figures taking sexual advantages of young women play in their plots. I was a little worried about the book I’m reading, which is…

WHAT I’M READING: Diary of a Bad Year Continue reading

Bertrand Russell

THE LAUREATE: Bertrand Russell was born in 1872 on his family’s estate. His parents were atheists and extremely liberal, but when they died, he was raised by his prim old grandmother. Russell went to Cambridge for mathematics and philosophy, and for a while taught a young go-getter named Ludwig Wittgenstein, because why not? Russell was a lifelong pacifist who frequently voiced very controversial positions. He also revolutionized analytical philosophy and even had an equation named after him.

WHAT I’M READING: I bought the Essential Bertrand Russell, and I’m reading everything in it about religion (which isn’t much.)

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Anatole France

THE LAUREATE: Anatole France was born in Paris, the son of a prominent bookseller. He attended a private Catholic school and then worked in his father’s bookstore before becoming the French Senate’s librarian. He wrote poetry, novels and was a journalist. His ironic detachment marked him as the perfect man of letters, apparently. His entire body of work was put on the Catholic Church’s index of banned books, which he rightly regarded as a distinction. He won the Nobel in 1921 and died in 1924.

WHAT I’M READING: Penguin Island

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Verner von Heidenstam

THE LAUREATE: Contrary to what his name sounds like, Herr Heidenstam was Swedish. He was born in 1859 to a rather wealthy family. He studied painting, then abandoned that for a Grand Tour of Europe, Africa and Asia. When he returned, he wrote travelogues, novels and poems. He was elected to the Swedish Academy of Literature in 1912 and won the Nobel in 1916. He died in 1940.

WHAT I’M READING: All of his poems published in English and a few stories out of The Swedes and Their Chieftains, which I’ve been jokingly calling The Boys’ Book of Viking Conquest
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Jose Saramago

THE LAUREATE: Jose Saramago was born to a family of landless peasants in 1922, people so poor that his father’s joking nickname was incorporated into his name. He was in grammar school for a few years, but poverty forced him into trade school. He was an auto mechanic and a translator before he became a full-time writer. He was also an active member of the Portuguese Communist Party and an atheist. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was apparently so offensive to the prime minister at the time that he refused to put Saramago’s work up for consideration for the Aristeon Prize. He died in 2010.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH HIM: I love Saramago. I’ve read three or four of his books already and I can’t see myself not reading more in the future. He was another author who put the idea for this project into my head.

WHAT I’M READING: The Cave, chosen out of the four or five other Saramago novels I own and haven’t read yet. Continue reading

Frans Eemil Sillanpää

THE LAUREATE: Frans Eemil Sillanpää was born in a village in Finland, where he, purely by luck, started attending school. He went to Helsinki to study medicine, met a girl at a dance and married her, and started writing. He died in 1964. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information about him, but hey, he’s Finland’s only laureate.

WHAT I’M READING: People in the Summer Night, which the internet tells me is his best book by far. Continue reading