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France & French Collections at the Library of Congress

French Literary Prizes

Paris, Exposition Universelle 1900 - La Rue des Nations / Kurz. 1900. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

One of the hallmarks of French culture is the literary season that starts at the end of the long August holiday when families return from the beaches, children go back to school, and book-lovers look forward to browsing the window displays of their local librarie (bookshop). La Rentrée is not only when publishing houses release the majority of their new titles (often upwards of 500 titles), but it also coincides with the announcement of the numerous French literary prizes. Of the many literary prizes awarded in France, the most prestigious is Le Prix Goncourt which is comparable to the UK's Booker Prize or the American Pulitzer Prize. The remaining "Big Six" are Le Prix Femina, Le Prix Renaudot, Le Prix Interallié, Le Prix Médicis, and Le Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française.

Le Prix Goncourt was conceived by the famous Goncourt Brothers (Edmond and Jules) in 1867 but not established until 1900. As authors and (somewhat frustrated) literary critics, these brothers compiled their own masterpiece, Journal des Goncourt, that chronicles the literary world of 19th-century Paris. Their candid opinions of popular writers such as Guy de Maupassant, and their details on rivalries and intrigues make for an interesting read. Upon his death in 1896 Edmond bequeathed his entire estate to establish the Académie Goncourt in honor of his brother, and as a culmination of their vision and hard work. For a fascinating read about the history of the Prix Goncourt, see Du côte de chez Drouant: cent dix ans de vie littéraire chez les Goncourt by Pierre Assouline. Le Drouant is the restaurant where the ten members of the Académie Goncourt meet each month and deliberate at a private dinner. The members are highly-respected French writers. Their meetings are held in the same room at the Drouant and each member has a personalized set of silverware with their initials engraved. When they retire, this silverware is given to the new member, thus the tradition continues. Edmond de Goncourt is buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

  • Le Prix Goncourt- Established in 1903 and awarded by the Académie Goncourt, a jury of ten members. Widely known as the most prestigious prize in France along side Le Prix Femina.
  • Le Prix Femina- Established in 1904 by writers for the journal La Vie Heureuse (the prize alternated names initially) and awarded by an all female jury. Both men and women are awarded with this prize (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry won in 1931), which is seen as an alternative to the Prix Goncourt.
  • Le Prix Renaudo- Established in 1925, this competes with the Prix Goncourt and is named after the doctor and philanthropist Théophraste Renaudot (1586-1653). Like members of the Académie Goncourt, this ten member jury also meets in a special room at the famous Drouant Restaurant in Paris.
  • Le Prix Interallié- Established in 1930 by journalists, the jury consists of ten writers or journalists. This award is intended to reward innovative style for a novel by a journalist. There is no monetary prize for this award given at the Lasserre restaurant.
  • Le Prix Médicis- Established in 1958 to encourage experimental writing, this award has the second highest percentage (nearly 20%) of female winners after Femina.
  • Le Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française- Established in 1914 and awarded by the Académie françiase. Among the numerous categories for this award, the winner for best novel is most anticipated.

General Works on French Literary Prizes

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.