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Athabasca University

Marie-Claire Blais

Marie-Claire Blais is a major French-Canadian novelist who has contributed monumentally to Canadian literature since she published her first novel, La belle bête (1959), a classic of Québec literature, at the age of twenty. For more than three decades, especially throughout the sixties and seventies, Blais has been a remarkably fecund author, producing a novel in almost every given calendar year. Her writing is exquisitely literary and has received much scholarly attention. Her entire oeuvre has been translated into English and widely translated into other languages including German, Russian, and Chinese. Blais' awards and honours are many.

Marie-Claire Blais was born in Québec in 1939 and grew up in a working-class milieu. She was educated at a convent school and at the Université Laval. The reception of her debut novels included a Guggenheim Fellowship. From the United States, Blais wrote Une saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel (1960), her most celebrated and studied work, for which she was awarded France’s prestigious Prix Medicis at the age of twenty-six.

While steadily producing novels for more than a quarter of a century, Blais also penned numerous theatre plays and radio dramas, as well as poetry, of which, two collections, Pays voilés (1963) and Existences (1964), have been published in French and English. Blais continues to write with great success and acclaim. Blais' most recent novel, Soifs (1995), garnered the Governor General’s Award in 1996. In 2002 Blais published her autobiography, Des rencontres humaines.

Blais' awards include Le Prix France-Québec (1965), the Prix Anthanase-David (1982), Cambridge’s International Woman of the Year award for services to literature and creative writing (95-96), the American Biographical Institute’s Decree of International Letters for Cultural Achievement (1997), the Prix d’Italie (1999), the W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize (2000) and the Prix Prince Pierre de Monaco (2002). These awards and distinctions establish Marie-Claire Blais as one of Canada’s greatest living authors and assert how important her contribution to Canadian literature is to Canadians and internationally.

Blais is an openly lesbian writer whose work is characterized by experimental language, method and form. Surrealism, lyricism, satire, and lurid vernacular dialogue, or street-talk, are devices expertly deployed by her. Blais' use of vernacular dialogue is as essential to her work as it is problematic to her translators. Common themes in her writing include monstrosity, brutality, despair and innocence betrayed. She divides her time between living in Québec, Florida, and France. (Marlene Wurfel)

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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