It will ultimately be a duel. Two writers and friends will compete, Thursday September 28, for the chair of perpetual secretary of the French Academy. Until the last minute, only the Franco-Lebanese Amin Maalouf intended to submit to the vote to succeed the historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, who died in August. But shortly before the closing of applications, Monday September 25 at midnight, Jean-Christophe Rufin submitted his.
The 35 members of the French Academy (which has a total of 40 seats, including 5 vacant) will therefore have the choice between two Goncourt Prizes. Aged 74, Amin Maalouf received it in 1993 for Le Rocher de Tanios. Jean-Christophe Rufin, 71, received it in 2001 for Rouge Brazil.
Amen Maalouf favori
A long-time candidate, the first is the favorite. The personality of Amin Maalouf
is in fact unanimous, he is very involved in the activities of the institution, where he joined in 2011. Another advantage: he is considered a permanent secretary who would have pleased Hélène Carrère d’Encausse.
A trained doctor and academician since 2008, the second is less consensual. Jean-Christophe Rufin hesitated before finally taking the plunge. “At first tempted to give up, I came to the conclusion that our great cause deserves some sacrifices,” he wrote in his letter of candidacy, quoted by the daily Le Monde. He had let it be known that he found it frustrating to have only one candidate. “It’s North Korea,” he declared, quoted on Saturday September 23 by M, the magazine of Le Monde.
According to the weekly, another academician, Marc Lambron, led an active campaign against him, accusing him of a lack of independence. Having worked in diplomacy – he was appointed ambassador to Dakar in 2007 by Nicolas Sarkozy – Jean-Christophe Rufin, who multiplies his activities, submitted a report in May for TotalEnergies on the situation in Mozambique. Also, since 2020, he has chaired the Sanofi Espoir corporate foundation, from the pharmaceutical group.
The permanent secretary, “director” of the institution
The permanent secretary of the French Academy heads the institution, responsible for defending and promoting the French language. Only 32 people have held this position since 1634.
Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, who joined in 1990 and was elected permanent secretary in 1999, will remain the one (she insisted on the masculine of the title) who made the French Academy take the Internet turn. All editions of the dictionary are available online for free. One of the challenges of his successor will be to ensure the financial sustainability of the institution, which is not assured, according to a 2021 report from the Court of Auditors.
It will also be necessary to attract valuable candidates under the Cupola. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse has in fact sometimes failed to attract or have applications from younger and popular writers approved. Michel Houellebecq did not respond to his requests while authors like Frédéric Beigbeder or Benoît Duteurtre were rejected.