The origin of the Prix Goncourt is often forgotten, but it was long in the making. Les frères Goncourt, Edmond and Jules, spent their lives following the new Parisian authors of the day and critiquing not only their writings, but their lifestyles and occasionally even their personal appearances. Feeling frustrated with their own literary aspirations, they were determined to leave some mark on the French literary canon. They achieved this not only with their highly entertaining Journal des Goncourt, but with the establishment — upon the death of Edmond — of the Académie Goncourt, an organization of ten members who award the Prix Goncourt each November starting in 1900. After his death in 1896, Edmond established the Académie Goncourt with funds from his estate in honor of his brother and to preserve some influence in French literary society (8 of the 10 members were selected in his will). He was also motivated out of concerns he had about the policies of the Académie française. Edmond de Goncourt is buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.
The Prix Goncourt today awards a variety of prizes, many were created in the mid 1970s and 1980s. Some of these prizes are awarded in the spring to balance out the year. Goncourt de la Nouvelle, Goncourt du Premier Roman, Goncourt de la Poésie Robert Sabatier (awarded for a poet's entire body of work), Goncourt des Lycéens (chosen by high school students), and Goncourt de la Biographie Edmonde Charles-Roux (begun as a scholarship for biographical works) are some of the most anticipated. But perhaps the most compelling prize is the Goncourt des Detenus, formally established in 2022 for detainees in the prison system. Approximately 500 inmates in 30 penitentiary establishments throughout France volunteer to become jurors by participating in workshops and meetings while in prison and then vote on the winning book selected from the 15 novels of the first selection of the Academy. This initiative is modeled after the Goncourt des Lycéens which has been operating successfully for 30 years. It is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Culture. Edith Girard from the Centre National du Livre (CNL) is responsible for much of this initiative which involves the logistical operations such as book distribution and organization of workshops. This is part of an effort promoted by President Emmanuel Macron to engage unlikely readers and to promote reading as a vector of social inclusion.
The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.