The president of Goncourt, Didier Decoin, was present this morning with Paule Constant and Sarah Jollien-Fardel (winner of the Goncourt detainees, 2022) at the Rennes women’s penitentiary center to inaugurate the second edition of the Goncourt Prize for detainees. A prize created and supported by the National Book Center (CNL), and the State prison services, which allows 500 prisoners, from 40 establishments, to read the 16 novels on the first Goncourt list and to participate actively in a literary prize.

LE FIGARO. – You were present this Wednesday, September 6 at the prison center for women in Rennes to inaugurate the second edition of the Prix Goncourt detainees. How did it go?

Didier DECOIN. – First of all, I have to say that the first edition of the Goncourt detainees went very well and that, according to Sarah Jollien-Fardel, who was with us in Rennes, the prize is a real recognition and that it highlighted his novel. I do not believe that the price had a considerable influence on the sales of the book, which came a little late after the Goncourt, in December 2022, but it was able to rekindle its flame. This award gives rise to a headband that I really care about. When you sell the book, you also sell the price. So now I would like the prize to grow, to get as much media coverage as possible. What is impressive with the Goncourt of prisoners is the complicity or at least the support of the prison administration, which has done everything to facilitate access to the book. It is a long ordeal for inmates to participate in a prize like this. Many are not used to reading so much and so quickly. So they can find support among their keepers. It also allows them to ground themselves in reality.

What do you expect from this second edition?

We are witnessing a particular phenomenon with this second edition: three books on our first list directly concern the problem of detention, this is the case, among others, of The Revolt of the Lost Girls, by Dorothée Janin, published by Stock. What I would like is that the votes of the men and women of this prize are not conditioned by their personal situation. And this is what the prisoners in Rennes were quick to say: “We will ignore what happened to us to take an interest in the books.” I enjoyed hearing them discuss today what they liked, why they wanted to participate in this jury, in what state of mind they approached it: that of a lambda reader.

Are there any books that have been designed to appeal to them?

When we make our list, we absolutely do not take care of the juries that will follow, this also applies to the Goncourt of high school students. The literature goes beyond this question. The list dropped yesterday, so for now, there isn’t a book that particularly caught their attention. What is pleasant with this kind of jury is that it is ready to open up to novelty.

What do you think of this first list?

I am very proud and happy of it. This is a list that didn’t just focus on the novel. We have books like that of Laure Murat or Neige Sinno, which I adore, which are not novels. We discussed this issue around the Goncourt table. Logically, we are bound by the wills of the Goncourts to give priority to our price for a work in prose, for the novel. For my part, I believe that we must stop sclerosis. We have shown openness by creating Goncourts abroad in 37 countries, I want us to have this same openness in France. Writing is not about focusing on a single theme. You have to be able to think in cinemascope. So we tried to scan all the genres that touch the romantic world. Our list is pluralistic. We don’t tie our hands. Literature must be open.

Some are disappointed not to see authors who have been talked about a lot recently…

I may have regretted that some authors are not present in this list, but we must leave room for others. There are no reserved seats. I find it interesting that there are new names, which perhaps will become important names. I think Neige Sinno knows how to write very well and that she will release major books.

Three early novels feature in this list. Could Le Goncourt attribute a book to a first-time novelist?

I don’t see why he couldn’t. I do not believe that giving the Goncourt to a first-time novelist is suicidal or fatal. If the person has sufficient shoulders to support glory and success, I don’t see why they wouldn’t support Goncourt.