Edna O’Brien to receive  France’s highest cultural distinction

Edna O’Brien to receive France’s highest cultural distinction

Irish author Edna O’Brien will be named Commander in the French Ordre des Arts et Lettres in recognition of her body of work. 

The Order of Arts and Letters is being awarded to O'Brien as an acknowledgement of "the struggle of a committed feminist who offered a voice to women around the world, and [is] recognised by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century".

France's culture minister Roselyne Bachelot will make the formal announcement during an online ceremony on 7th March, the eve of International Women’s Day. 

During the ceremony organized by the Cercle Littéraire Irlandais, the French Embassy to Ireland, the Irish Embassy to France and the New-York Irish Centre, Irish minister of culture Catherine Martin, Irish writer Colum McCann, Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, and Georges Heslin director of the New-York Irish Centre will make testimonials and pay tribute to the author. In 2020, she opened the Avignon Theatre Festival in partnership with France Culture with the reading of her last novel Girl (Faber), a moving story about violence against women, one of her lifelong concerns.

Born and raised in Tuamgraney, County Clare, O’Brien is the recipient of many awards including the Irish PEN Lifetime Achievement Award, the American National Arts Gold Medal, the Frank O’Connor Prize, and the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. In 2019, she was awarded with the Prix Femina special, by an exclusively female jury, a special prize in honour of O’Brien’s entire body of work, making her its first ever non-French recipient.

Her first novel, The Country Girls (Hutchinson) was banned and was burned in the grounds of her local chapel in Ireland when it was first published in 1960. Since then she has written over 20 novels, five works of drama and four works of non-fiction including her memoir, Country Girl (Faber). Translated in French from her first novel in 1960 by Juilliard and by Presses de la Cité in 1962, she was then published by Gallimard in 1968 and 1973. About 15 titles were published by Fayard between 1986 and 2003, before she formed an exclusive relationship with her current French publisher Sabine Wespieser from 2010.