The Goncourt Academy, a very active literary society

Presentation of the Goncourt 2020 prize at the Drouant restaurant. Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

DECRYPTION – Composed of ten members, it meets every month, from September to June.

The association “Goncourt Literary Society” known as “Goncourt Academy” was founded, in accordance with the intentions of MM. Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, by deed of July 6, 1897 and April 7, 1900”, note the first article of the internal regulations of the Literary Society of Goncourt. Its object? “Help to the emergence of talents”, specifies Edmond de Goncourt to Mario Fenouil, on November 6, 1889.

The academy is made up of ten members: Didier Decoin (president), Philippe Claudel (general secretary), Françoise Chandernagor, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Patrick Rambaud, Paule Constant, Pierre Assouline, Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Camille Laurens and Pascal Bruckner. It is administered by a bureau, made up of four members elected for one year by a general assembly: a president, a vice-president, a general secretary and a treasurer. The academicians meet every month, from September to June.

The fields of action of the Goncourt Academy are multiple. It awards an annual prize, known as the “Goncourt Prize”, to the best imaginative work in prose published during the year. This prize is not confined to France, it has long been open to the French-speaking world. Tahar Ben Jelloun, French writer of Moroccan origin, was for example crowned in 1987.

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The choice of the jury takes place in four stages: at the beginning of September, the members announce their first selection, made up of fifteen titles, which ensures their wide distribution in bookstores. From this selection, the high school students are invited to elect their own winner (Goncourt des lycéens).

The second selection of Goncourt, reduced to eight titles, is announced on the first Tuesday of October while the four finalists are chosen on the last Tuesday of the same month. The winner is announced by the academicians at the Parisian restaurant Drouant, the first week of November. If the pecuniary reward is symbolic (a check for 10 euros, traditionally framed by the elected writer), the crowned novel is translated all over the world and thus acquires an international reputation.

A unique initiative for the promotion and dissemination of contemporary literature around the world, the Goncourt academicians also promote and sponsor more than thirty Goncourt Choices, piloted in each country by the French embassies or French institutes. In India as in Uruguay, Brazil or China, nearly 8,000 French students, in some 300 universities, read the Goncourt selections and vote. Their “Goncourt Choice” allows the award-winning novel to be translated into the local language.

The life of a juror is not limited to the Goncourt Prize, nor to the many trips that the Goncourt Choices entail or the meetings they provide in schools, such as towards so-called “impeded” audiences. From January, they begin their readings for the spring Goncourts, other distinctions to which they devote time and part of their work. The Goncourt of poetry Robert Sabatier rewards a poet for all of his work. The Goncourts of the first novel, the Goncourts of the short story as well as the Goncourts of the biography Edmonde Charles-Roux are also a precious help for their laureates.

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The Goncourt Academy, a very active literary society