Marie-Claire Blais, novelist (b at Québec City 5 Oct 1939). Marie-Claire Blais grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Limoilou, in Québec City. Educated by Catholic nuns, she became increasingly disillusioned with her studies and decided instead to enter the workforce and take courses in literature. Her teachers immediately recognized her talent and encouraged her writing.
In 1959, Blais published her first novel, La Belle Bête, which was both hailed by critics and criticized for its lack of morality. With violence and coarse language that was unfamiliar in Québec at the time, the novel's plot left indelible marks on the imaginations of its many readers. The story of the tortured relationship between an ugly young woman and her simple-minded but exceptionally beautiful young brother set off increasingly powerful expressions of fear - the critics even spoke of nameless brutality - that stunned readers considering the author's youthful age. The novel was immediately published in France (1960), and translated into English (as Mad Shadows), Spanish and Italian. This remarkable work, which drew the attention of the American critic Edmund Wilson, won Marie-Claire Blais - just back from several difficult months in Paris - two Guggenheim Fellowships, and enabled her to move to Cape Cod with her friends, painter Mary Meigs and journalist Barbara Deming. A second novel, Tête blanche, followed in 1960 (translated 1961). The highly acclaimed Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (A Season in the Life of Emmanuel) appeared in 1965, and was translated into more than ten languages. Over 2000 books, theses, articles, reviews and interviews were written about this novel, and its multiple interpretations by literary critics pay tribute to the work's rich complexity.
In 1972, Marie-Claire Blais moved to Brittany, and after spending several years in Europe, returned to Montréal, where she continued her prolific writing. Montréal and the Eastern Townships particularly inspire her and have served as backdrops for a number of her subsequent works, including L'insoumise (1966); David Sterne (1967); Manuscrits de Pauline Archange (1968); Vivre! Vivre! (1969); Le sourd dans la ville (1979); Visions d'Anna (1982); Pierre (1984); L'Ange de la solitude (1989); Un jardin dans la tempête (1990); Soifs (1995); Dans la foudre et la lumière (1995); Augustino ou le chœur de la destruction (2005); Naissance de Rebecca à l'ère des tourments (2009); and Mai au bal des prédateurs (2010). Several were made into movies: Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (dir. Claude Weisz 1972), prix de la Quinzaine des jeunes réalisateurs; Le sourd dans la ville (dir. Mireille Dansereau 1987), Mostra Award at the Venice Film Festival; and L'océan, a television play by Jean Faucher for Radio-Canada.
Marie-Claire Blais is also a playwright and a poet. She has written more than six plays, including a French text inspired by Seamus Heaney's translation of Sophocles' Antigone performed at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) in 2005, and has published five poetry collections. In addition, she collaborated on the script of Anne-Claire Poirier's NFB film, Tu as crié, Let me go (1996). Marie-Claire Blais divides her time between the Eastern Townships in Québec and the Florida Keys.
Marie-Claire Blais' work has won many international honours. She has received Governor General's Awards (1968, 1979, 1996, 2001, 2005, 2008), the Prix France-Canada (1965), the Prix Médicis (1966), the Prix Athanase-David (1982), the Prix de l'Académie française (1982), the Prix Ludger-Duvernay (1988), the Prix d'Italie (1999), the W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize (2000), the Prix Prince-Pierre de Monaco (2002), the prix Gilles-Corbeil from the Émile-Nelligan Foundation (2005) offered every three years, and the Matt Cohen Award from the Writers' Trust of Canada (2006) awarded for the first time to a francophone author. Marie-Claire Blais was named International Woman of the Year by the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England (1995-96). She is a Member of the Order of Canada and of the Ordre National du Québec, and a Chevalier in the Ordre des Lettres, France. In addition, she won the commemorative medal marking the 125th anniversary of Canada's Confederation (1992). She was the first North American author invited to join Belgium's prestigious Académie royale de langue et de littérature française.