The American Library in Paris Book Award
Honoring literature. Interpreting France.
The 2020 Winner: The Plateau by Maggie Paxson
We are proud to announce the winner of the 2020 American Library in Paris Book Award. Maggie Paxson accepted the prize for The Plateau (Riverhead Books) in a moving speech during the Library’s first-ever virtual Book Award ceremony on 14 January 2021, now available to watch on our YouTube channel.
During the ceremony, the Book Award jury presented its citation about the book:
A work of moral imagination, literary skill, depth, breadth, and passion, The Plateau explores a small pocket of rural Southwest France, the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon, whose community took in Jewish refugees from the 1930s through the Holocaust and which today houses one of France’s few centers for asylum seekers. Maggie Paxson, a renegade anthropologist accustomed to spending long months living with her subjects, poses difficult questions about what makes some communities open and others closed, some people good and others not, some generous and others stingy. Wearing her copious research lightly, she places the history of heroic individuals in the broader context of French and European 20th-century history. For the moral urgency of the questions it poses, for its ambitious efforts to connect France’s past to its present, for its big heart, poetic writing and genre-defying structure, we applaud The Plateau and are pleased to name it the winner of the 2020 American Library in Paris Book Award.
Paxson is a writer, anthropologist, and performer living in Washington, DC. She is the author of The Plateau and Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, in addition to essays in Time, Washington Post Magazine, and other venues. Paxson holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from l’Université de Montréal. She performs as a singer with the Imperial Palms Orchestra, featuring music of the 1920s through the 1940s. She has recently launched a series of participatory events that she calls “Bomb Shelter Cafés,” inspired by the music and collective art of embattled communities during the Second World War.
The 2020 Shortlist
Bill Buford. Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf US / Jonathan Cape UK)
James Gardner. The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Caitlin Horrocks. The Vexations: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)
Rachel Mesch. Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford University Press)
Maggie Paxson. The Plateau (Riverhead Books)
Maurice Samuels. The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern (Basic Books)
Six titles were selected as finalists for the 2020 American Library in Paris Book Award.
They include a novel (The Vexations), a triple biography (Before Trans), a historical whodunit (The Betrayal of the Duchess), a memoir (Dirt), an architectural appreciation (The Louvre), and an unclassifiable work of anthropology, philosophy, and memory (The Plateau).
A screening committee chaired by former Library director Charles Trueheart, the award administrator, selected the six 2020 finalists from over seventy submissions. The choice of the winning title was selected by an independent jury and presented in a live virtual ceremony on 14 January, 2021. The 2020 jury chair was Ethan Katz, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley whose book The Burdens of Brotherhood won the 2016 Book Award. The other two jurors were Rachel Donadio, former European cultural correspondent of The New York Times and The Atlantic contributing writer, and Jake Lamar, former Time correspondent and Paris-based novelist, essayist, and playwright.
2020 Coups de Coeur
Five exceptional new books about France were selected as “coups de cœur” in the runup to the 14 January announcement of the 2020 American Library in Paris Book Award winner. The coups de cœur were selected from the seventy-one submissions by the award’s screening committee as having special merit. They are available for checkout at the Library.
The Art of Resistance, an extraordinary wartime memoir of a young French resistant during Nazi occupation, Justus Rosenberg, now an American citizen of 99.
Becoming Beauvoir, a commanding portrait of France’s leading woman of ideas by British philosopher Kate Kirkpatrick.
The Loneliest Band in France, a perceptive novella narrated by a Sri Lankan student in Montpellier, swept up in the musical and drinking scene, by Dylan Fisher.
A New World Begins, a rich new history of the French revolution by American historian Jeremy D. Popkin.
The Seine, a passionate exploration, in time and space, of the great French river by Paris writer Elaine Sciolino.
About the American Library in Paris Book Award
The American Library’s $5,000 literary prize, now in its eighth year, is given to the most distinguished book of the year, encompassing all genres, about France and the French. The award is supported by a generous grant from the Florence Gould Foundation.
The Book Award follows a long tradition of showcasing and celebrating authors at the American Library. The Library was created in part as a memorial to a young American poet, Alan Seeger, who wrote the well-known poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” not long before he died in action in France in 1916. One of the Library’s founding trustees was Edith Wharton. Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, among many other writers of note, contributed reviews to the Library’s literary magazine, Ex Libris. Stephen Vincent Benét composed sections of John Brown’s Body at the Library. Authors of every generation have worked and spoken at the Library: Ford Madox Ford, Archibald MacLeish, Colette, Henry Miller, André Gide, Anaïs Nin, James Baldwin, Irwin Shaw, James Jones, and Mary McCarthy, to name a few from the past. As the Library celebrates its centennial, it remains the pre-eminent center in Paris for evening talks by prominent authors, artists, and other public figures.
If you are interested in becoming a patron of the Book Award ceremony, or have questions about the prize, please write the Book Award administrator, Charles Trueheart, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2019 Book Award: Marc Weitzmann and Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What It Means for Us)
Marc Weitzmann accepted the award, and the $5,000 prize, at a reception at the George C. Marshall Center near the Place de la Concorde on Thursday 7 November 2019. Library Director Audrey Chapuis and Book Award Administrator Charles Trueheart announced the six titles on the shortlist and the screening committee’s five coups de coeur. The three members of the jury awarded the prize and presented their encomium. Mr. Weitzmann, the Book Award’s first French winner, spoke about how Philip Roth pushed him to develop the series of articles he wrote for Tablet Magazine into a book-length work for an American audience. About writing in English, he said that “thinking in a foreign language gives you another understanding of your own country.”
The jury for the 2019 award included Alice Kaplan, professor of French at Yale University and author of seven books, including Looking for the Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic; New York Times Magazine contributing writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd and Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race; and Pamela Druckerman, Paris-based New York Times columnist and author of There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story and four other books.
The shortlist was announced in July 2019:
Edward Carey. Little: A Novel (Riverhead Books US / Gallic Books UK)
Andrew S. Curran. Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely (Other Press)
David Elliott. Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Stéphane Hénaut and Jeni Mitchell. A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment (The New Press)
Julie Orringer. The Flight Portfolio: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marc Weitzmann. Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What it Means for Us) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Read the full 2019 Book Award Press Release here. A photo gallery of the 2019 Book Award ceremony can be viewed on the Library’s Flickr page. Here is the complete list of all eighty-two submissions for the 2019 Book Award.
The 2018 Book Award: Julian Jackson and A Certain Idea of France
The jurors were impressed by Julian Jackson’s magnificent biography of the strangest and most significant figure to mark French history in the twentieth century. A Certain Idea of France is a triumph of scholarship and thoughtfulness, and an important contribution to France’s understanding of itself. Jackson’s book is a masterpiece of historical writing that provides an intimate portrait of an unusual man, a profound reflection on the history of France, and a gripping, stylish narrative at the same time. Jackson accepted the award, and the $5,000 prize, at a reception at the George C. Marshall Center near the Place de la Concorde on Thursday 8 November 2018. Library Director Audrey Chapuis and Book Award Administrator Charles Trueheart presented the award.
In his remarks, Jackson discussed the challenges of writing about de Gaulle, a “weird” and “extraordinarily pragmatic person,” when there are “no new facts.” Jackson told the assembled guests he tried to convey de Gaulle’s sense of history and understanding of the world, and noted “that wisdom that comes from history—the deep understanding of history—is something we miss today.”
The jury for the 2018 award included Diane Johnson, novelist, essayist, critic, and chairman of the Library’s Writers Council; David Bellos, Princeton professor, translator, and author of the winning 2017 title, The Novel of the Century; and Pierre Assouline, biographer, novelist, critic, and editor of larepubliquedeslivres.com.
The shortlist was announced in September 2018:
Adam Begley. The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (Tim Duggan Books)
Julian Jackson. A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle (Allen Lane UK / Harvard University Press US)
Bijan Omrani. Caesar’s Footprints: A Cultural Excursion to Ancient France: Journeys Through Roman Gaul (Pegasus Books US / Head of Zeus UK)
Rupert Thomson. Never Anyone But You (Corsair UK / Other Press US)
Caroline Weber. Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Alfred A. Knopf)
Read the full 2018 Book Award Press Release here. A photo gallery of the ceremony can be viewed on the Library’s Flickr. Here is the complete list of all seventy-six submissions for the 2018 Book Award.
The 2017 Book Award: David Bellos and The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventures of Les Misérables
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is one of the most popular novels of all time. Biographer David Bellos recounts the fascinating story of the decades-long creation of this masterwork in his just-published book, The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventures of Les Misérables. The screeners and jury of the 2017 Book Award were unanimous. Bellos’s account takes the prize. Bellos accepted the Award, and the $5,000 prize, at the glittering reception at the George C. Marshall Center near the Place de la Concorde on Friday 3 November 2017. The Library’s Writers Council chairwoman and Parisian literary fixture Diane Johnson presented the award.
In his remarks, Bellos stressed the immortal nature of this great work of literature, in continuous print for over 150 years and translated into dozens of languages. According to Bellos, Victor Hugo’s underlying themes of redemption, love, and struggle against poverty remain every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1860s, perhaps more so.
The jury for the 2017 award included New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, and former director of la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bruno Racine.
The shortlist was announced in July 2017:
David Bellos. The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables (Particular Books UK / Farrar, Straus and Giroux US)
Adam Gidwitz. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Dutton Children’s Books)
Ross King. Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies (Bloomsbury)
David McAninch. Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony—France’s Last Best Place (Harper)
Nadja Spiegelman. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This: A memoir (Riverhead Books)
Susan Suleiman. The Némirovsky Question: The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in Twentieth-Century France (Yale University Press)
Here is the 2017 Book Award Press Release in English and French. A photo gallery of the 2017 Book Award ceremony can found on the Library Flickr. Here is the complete list of the seventy-six submissions for the 2017 Book Award.
The 2016 Book Award: Ethan Katz and The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France
Ethan B. Katz’s book about the relations between Jews and Muslims of North African descent living in France was awarded the fourth annual Book Award Thursday 3 November at a ceremony in Paris. Diane Johnson, chairman of the Library’s Writers Council, announced the choice of The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France, published by Harvard University Press, in the presence of Katz, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, who went on to speak of his book and its subject. (Full transcript of Ethan B. Katz’s remarks.)
The jury stated: “The book’s highly original and fresh earlier chapters explore a common Maghrebi culture in which Jews and Muslims had good neighborly relations, and in which their identities were set not only by religion but also by profession, education, tastes in food and music, and many other characteristics. Katz’s powerful analysis about how identities are shaped will surely prove to be influential far beyond the subject of Jews and Muslims in France.”
The jury for the 2016 award included Laura Auricchio, the chair, whose biography The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, won the 2015 award; British novelist Robert Harris, whose An Officer and a Spy, about the Dreyfus affair, won the 2014 award; and Robert O. Paxton, the historian and leading American scholar on Nazi Occupation in France.
The shortlist was announced on 11 July 2016:
Jo Baker. A Country Road, A Tree: A Novel (Knopf)
Sarah Bakewell. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails (Other Press)
Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau. The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed (St. Martin’s Press US / Duckworth Publishers UK)
David Drake. Paris at War: 1939-1944 (Harvard University Press)
Ethan B. Katz. The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France (Harvard University Press)
Luc Sante. The Other Paris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux US / Faber & Faber UK)
The 2015 Book Award: Laura Auricchio and The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered
Laura Auricchio’s biography of the Marquis de Lafayette was awarded the third annual American Library in Paris Book Award Friday 6 November at a ceremony in Paris. Laura Furman, chairman of the jury, announced the choice of The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, published by Knopf, in the presence of Auricchio, an art historian and dean at the New School in New York, who went on to speak of her book and its subject.
Diane Johnson, chairman of the Library’s Writers Council, presented Auricchio with a custom-bound copy of her book.
The jury for the 2015 award included Laura Furman, the chair, editor of the O. Henry Prize Stories since 2002; novelist and biographer Lily Tuck, winner of the National Book Award in Fiction; and Fredrik Logevall, author of Embers of War, winner of the first American Library in Paris Book Award in 2013.
The shortlist was announced on 14 July 2015:
Laura Auricchio. The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered (Knopf)
Nancy L. Green. The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth 1880-1941 (University of Chicago Press)
Richard C. Keller. Fatal Isolation: The Devastating Paris Heat Wave of 2003 (University of Chicago Press)
Sue Roe. In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 (Fig Tree UK / Penguin Press US)
Ronald Rosbottom. When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation 1940-1944 (Little, Brown US / John Murray UK)
The 2014 Book Award: Robert Harris and An Officer and a Spy
The second annual American Library in Paris Book Award was presented Monday 3 November 2014 to Robert Harris for his historical novel An Officer and a Spy. Alice Kaplan, chairman of the jury, revealed the honored book to 100 guests at a ceremony within the gilded walls of the George C. Marshall Center in the Hôtel de Talleyrand. The other two jurors were Pierre Assouline and Sebastian Faulks. The novel, published by Random House and Hutchinson in the UK, recounts the conspiracy at the heart of the Dreyfus affair and centers on French army officer Georges Picquart, who discovered that Dreyfus was innocent.
In his remarks, Harris spoke of realizing the approach needed to write the novel: “I can honestly say that the writing of the book was an absolute joy from beginning to end. The dirty little secret of writing, as E.L. Doctorow once said, is that you have to find the voice. And the moment I realized that I should write this as Georges Picquart’s memoir, I had the voice. And thereafter, history gave me all the characters and all the story.” Harris went on to say that he was drawn to Picquart “because he seemed to me a truly interesting French hero. He could only be French. if the Dreyfus affair reflects discredit upon France, the fact and the behavior of Picquart reflects enormous credit.”
The jury for the 2014 award included authors Alice Kaplan, Sebastian Faulks, and Pierre Assouline.
The shortlist was announced in July 2014:
Jonathan Beckman. How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne (John Murray UK / Da Capo Press US)
Frederick Brown. The Embrace of Unreason: France 1914-1940 (Knopf)
Sean B. Carroll. Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize (Crown)
Philip Dwyer. Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 (Bloomsbury UK / Yale University Press US)
Robert Harris. An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson US / Arrow UK)
Francine Prose. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (HarperCollins US)
The 2013 Book Award: Fredrik Logevall and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam
The first annual American Library in Paris Book Award was given to Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, by Fredrik Logevall. At a lovely ceremony held in the august, history-filled halls of the George C. Marshall Center overlooking the Place de la Concorde, guests talked over champagne, wine and hors d’oeuvres. Trustees, Library donors, friends of the Library, journalists, the original screening committee as well as several of the authors of the 45 books originally submitted for the award, listened as director Charles Trueheart introduced jury member Diane Johnson to announce the winning book. Johnson, Adam Gopnik and Julian Barnes had selected the winner from the five-book shortlist.
Receiving the prize and the accompanying $5,000 check, the erudite, plain-spoken Logevall discussed of the tragedy that was France’s war in Indochina, which led not to peace but to continuing tragedy as the United States directly engaged in its own war as the French departed. Logevall ended with a quote from Bernard Fall, a significant figure in his book: “Americans were dreaming different dreams than the French, but walking in the same footsteps.”
The jury for the 2013 award was composed of authors Julian Barnes, Adam Gopnik, and Diane Johnson.
The shortlist was announced on 17 July 2013:
Simon van Booy. The Illusion of Separateness: A Novel (Harper US / Oneworld Publications UK)
Alex Danchev. Cezanne: A Life (Pantheon US / Profile Books Ltd UK)
Fredrik Logevall. Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (Random House US / Presidio Press UK)
Tom Reiss. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown US / Harvill Secker UK)
Marilyn Yalom. How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance (Harper)
Past Winners at a Glance
2019: Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What It Means for Us) by Marc Weitzmann
2018: A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle by Julian Jackson
2017: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos
2016: The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France by Ethan B. Katz
2015: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio
2014: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
2013: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall