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The French Rwandan author Scholastique Mukasonga has become the first African woman to win the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom.  The prize is awarded annually to “a person or association, a work or action that, everywhere in the world – in all fields, law, work, education, research, literature, daily life, activism… – defends and advances the freedom of women”.

After being announced as the prize winner, the 65-year-old novelist and writer said: “It’s a nice surprise, which comes to me as I am writing the book which is the most feminist of my novels.”

Born in 1956 in the former Gikongoro province of Rwanda, Mukasonga’s life has been one of suffering and exile.  She settled in France in 1992, only 2 years before the brutal genocide of the Tutsi swept through Rwanda. In the aftermath, Mukasonga learned that 37 of her family members had been massacred.

Twelve years later, the French publisher Gallimard published her autobiographical account Inyenzi ou les Cafards, which marked Mukasonga’s entry into literature. This was followed by the publication of La femme aux pieds nus in 2008 and L’Iguifou in 2010, both widely praised. Her first novel, Our Lady Of The Nile, won the Ahamadou Kourouma prize and the Renaudot prize in 2012, as well as the Océans France Ô prize in 2013 and the French Voices Award in 2014.

In 2014 Mukasonga received the Seligman Prize against racism and intolerance and in 2015 with the prize Société des gens de lettres. She currently lives in Lower Normandy in France.

Previous winners of the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom include the Turkish writer Asli Erdogan in 2018 and the Pakistani blogger and activist Malala Yousazai in 2013.  Last year it was awarded to Sara Garcia Gross, the Salvadoran activist.

Mukasonga will receive the prize at an award ceremony on May 31, 2021 at Maison de l’Amérique Latine, Paris, France.