The French government has named Henri Mitterand, professor of French Romance Philology, Commandeur de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Commander, Order of Arts and Letters). The designation is a reward for artistic or literary contributions in France and around the world.
The Order of Arts and Letters comprises three ranks: knight, officer and commander. While many are initially selected as a knight or officer and work their way up to commander, Mitterand was honored with the highest ranking, commander, a distinction 20 people receive each year.
In addition to this honor, Mitterand was awarded the prize of Literary Biography, offered by the French Academy. Both distinctions recognize his work on the three-volume biography of Emile Zola, a French novelist, critic and founder of the naturalist movement in literature. The publication of the biography coincides with the 100th anniversary of the controversial writer's death.
"I would not have been able to complete most of the books that earned me academic recognition if I would not have benefited from the great opportunity that Columbia University offered to me 14 years ago, by generously welcoming me into its ranks," says Mitterand. "There I found research enticement, intellectual support and emulation -- everything I needed to fulfill my writing desires."
One of the world's leading authorities on Zola, Mitterand has founded and directed two research centers dedicated to Zola and Naturalism: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France; and Canadian Council, Toronto. He has published more than 30 books about literary history, textual analysis and linguistics, including: "Rougon-Macquart" (five volumes); "Oeuvres completes de Zola" (15 volumes); "Zola journaliste, Zola l'Histoire et la Fiction" and "Emile Zola: Fiction and Modernity." He has also taught at the Universities of Besancon and Reims, the University of Paris and the Sorbonne Nouvelle.
Mitterand is currently on leave and will return to Columbia for the spring 2004 semester. During his sabbatical, he is in France composing an anthology of "Ecrits de Zola on the Novel" and writing a theoretical book entitled "L'Espace Romanesque" (Spaciality of the Novel).
The Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 and awards are given out twice annually by the French Minister of Culture and Communication to a few hundred people worldwide. American recipients of the medal include Paul Auster, Richard Meier, Robert Paxton, Robert Redford, Susan Sontag and Meryl Streep.