French Literary Awards

(This article serves as a continuation of our previous blog post on notable literary cafes in Paris.)

The concept of literary accolades in France dates back to the Renaissance period, when numerous poetry contests and improvised verbal jousts took place. These ancient activities gave tempo to the literary and artistic life of its time and eventually became predecessors to the contemporary literary awards we know today.

The evolution of these activities into awards occurred at the turning point of the XIXth and XXth centuries with the creation of “commemoration” awards, such as the prizes of the French Academy and other such foundations, in order to organize the celebration of an author and his work.

Salon Goncourt at the Drouant restaurant, headquarters of the Academy since 1914

Without doubt, the Prix Goncourt serves as one of the most representative examples of the modern concept of these literary awards. The Prix Goncourt was established in 1903 when two French writers of the XIXth century, Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, gave away their fortune in order to create an academy and an annual prize contest that provided talented new authors with a monetary award that would allow them to write a second book.

The founding of the Goncourt prize led to a host of other literary awards that take place every year between late August and early November (also known as “autumn prizes”), such as the Femina prize (1904), chaired by an exclusively female jury, the French Academy prize in 1914, the Renaudot prize in 1926 and the Interallié prize in 1930. Prizes with a more avant-garde approach, such as the Médicis (1958), have also come about.

We can ask ourselves, what is the point of such prizes? What do they offer to the author?

The significance of autumn prizes is their ability to sell books quickly and in great number. The almost-guaranteed success of authors who win such prizes is related to the role of the media, which has been turning award opportunities into media events since the beginning of the century. Literary prizes, therefore, have gradually evolved as tributes. Rewarded authors are crowned with an esteemed image by the general public.

To echo our previous article on literary cafes, it should be noted that many of these prizes are awarded only after careful deliberation in such cafes. Thus, it is relevant to mention the Drouant, which hosts the juries of the Goncourt and Renaudot prize, but also the Crillon for jurying the Femina prize and the Lasserre and Mediterranean restaurants for hosting the Interallié and Médicis prizes.

Enthusiasts will meet on Wednesday, November 7th for the reveal of this year’s Goncourt prize recipient.