Françoise Nyssen, Head of French Indie Publisher Actes Sud, Named Minister of Culture
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Many politicians publish novels, but not many novelists or people from the publishing world become politicians, with the exception of course, of the last president of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel, who wrote plays, essays, and memoirs. Now the young government of 39-year-old French president Emmanuel Macron has named 65-year-old Françoise Nyssen, head of the publishing house Actes Sud, as his Minister of Culture and Communication. Actes Sud is one of the most dynamic publishing companies in France, with the distinction of being not only independent, but based, unlike most other French publishers, in southern France, in the city of Arles. Nyssen's father, Brussels-born Hubert, founded the company in 1977 and his daughter, although trained as a scientist, began working with him one year later.
In 1995 Actes Sud bought Sindbad, a small publishing company and made it an imprint for Arabic literature in translation, bringing in Syrian intellectual Farouk Mardam-Bey to run it. Mardam-Bey has since transformed the literary landscape in France for contemporary Arab authors. Actes Sud also acquired other publishing companies including Payot & Rivages, a string of bookshops and the children's publishing companies Helium and Editions du Rouergue.
The roster of authors published by Actes Sud and the number of awards it has accumulated over the years is too long to name, but its foreign authors published in French include Günter Grass, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Mahmud Darwish, Alaa Al Aswany, Jaume Cabré, Stieg Larsson and Nobel prize winners Imre Kertész and Svetlana Alexievitch. Their French-language authors include Goncourt winners Jérôme Ferrari, Laurent Gaudé and Mathias Enard but also Nina Berberova or Algerian author Kamel Daoud and Haitian writer Lyonel Trouillot.
Françoise Nyssen, along with her late father, who retired in early 2000, her husband Jean-Paul Capitani and Bertrand Py guided Actes Sud to where it is today: one of the jewels in France's publishing crown. In an interview with Télérama magazine in 2015 just after the terrorist attacks in France, Nyssen was asked how she perceived the role of publisher:
In today's context, after the attacks in mid-November, the reason for doing this work is more obvious than ever. It is all about asking questions about the world and how it works. And, at the same time, bringing beauty and pleasure [to this world]. To be able to offer beauty, through a very literary text, is also a political gesture, for it nourishes, stimulates, and awakens the senses and gives energy, even more than an essay can. It is not a coincidence that we work both in the field of literature and on a collection such as "Domaine du Possible" (Realm of Possibility), which publishes the work of the essayists Pierre Rabhi and Naomi Klein.
If Nyssen's philosophy can be applied to her role as Minister, culture in France will be in good hands.
photo credit BRUNO NUTTENS/ACTES SUD