Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Erik Orsenna, France

Economist, Novelist, Writer * 1947
Voyage aux pays du coton. Petit précis de mondialisation

"This is my profession: using the novel and travel reportages, I attempt to open doors and to make the world more understandable ... Cotton gave me a means of tackling globalisation. Cotton-related labour involves several hundred million human beings, on every continent. There are those who plant, those who spin, those who weave, those who distribute, those who trade, and then there's us, who wear it.

Erik Orsenna was born in Paris. After his studies in philosophy and political science at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, he studied economics at the London School of Economics. He lectured in international finance and the economics of development at the Université de Paris, before becoming a member of the Council of State in 1985. He became a ministerial advisor and for three years acted as cultural advisor to President Francois Mitterand. During the 1990s he was appointed by the foreign affairs ministry to advise on democratisation in Africa and the relations between southern Europe and north Africa.

He has written numerous essays and novels including Grand Amour (1993), La vie comme à Lausanne (1978) and L'Exposition coloniale (1988) which won the Prix Goncourt. His other works included Le Nôtre: Jardinier du Roi Soleil (2001) and La Grammaire est une chanson douce (2004).

His book Voyage aux pays du coton. Petit précis de mondialisation [Journey to the Lands of Cotton. A Brief Manual of Globalisation] (2006) takes a journey to the four corners of the world following the thread of the cotton trade, in an attempt to illustrate the affects of globalisation. He visits plantations in Mali and the United States, research laboratories and huge cotton farms in Brazil, museums in Egypt, the dried out Aral Sea and the steeps of Uzbekistan, textile factories in China and France. These are all places of encounter with the raw material which has marked the history of entire countries and which to this day hundreds of millions of people still depend upon for their livelihoods. His book brings the intricate mechanisms of globalisation to life, including the conflict between history and modernisation, between multinational companies and more traditional economies, and between the rhetoric of open markets and the reality of protectionism.

Orsenna was elected to the Académie Française in 1998 and is director of the Centre International de la Mer.

He lives in Paris.



go to top of the page

"What is literary reportage? What do we need? Do we need first-hand experience? Yes. Do we need literary writing? Of course. But we need also something that's different than everything else, a new creation, something that couldn't be done before, that can't be compared to anything else in the world."Mark Danner (jury member 2005)