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Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich wins 2015 Nobel Prize for literature

(CNN)Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich, known for chronicling the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for literature Thursday "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

She is only the 14th woman to win the prize, which has been awarded 107 times.

On her website, Alexievich says she records conversations with 500 to 700 people for each book she writes.

"Real people speak in my books about the main events of the age such as the war, the Chernobyl disaster, and the downfall of a great empire," she says. "Together they record verbally the history of the country, their common history, while each person puts into words the story of his/her own life."She does not, she says, document a dry history of facts and events.

"I'm writing a history of human feelings," Alexievich says. "What people thought, understood and remembered during the event. What they believed in or mistrusted, what illusions, hopes and fears they experienced. This is impossible to imagine or invent, at any rate in such multitude of real details."In a 2005 address to the PEN World Voices Festival in the United States, Alexievich explained how she found her writing style. Her comments were translated into English.

For people living in Slavic countries, the spoken word is extremely important, she said. "The point is not simply to exchange facts and information -- the idea is that it's important to speak of the essence of life and of its mystery."

"As I was searching for the way to represent this, I began to understand that what I was hearing people say on the street and in the crowds was much more effectively capturing what was going on than what I was reading in print -- and the way that people were trying to convey it using their pen," Alexievich said.

In the modern world, she said, it was impossible to write "the book" that encompassed everything in the manner of 19th century novelists.

"We need to have a book where lots of people can make a contribution -- one person may speak half a page, someone else may have a paragraph or five pages that they can contribute and that this is a way of conveying what's going on today."

"And my genre, I refer to it as 'the novel of voices' and you might say that my work as just simply lying on the ground and I go and I gather it and I pick it up and I put it together. If Flaubert said 'I am a man of the pen -- or the plume,' I could say of myself that I am a person of the ear."Alexievich is not the first historian to win the prize, the most prestigious literature award in the world. Winston Churchill won in 1953, primarily for his sweeping, multivolume works documenting British history and the two world wars.

Alexievich's books include "The Chernobyl Prayer," "The War's Unwomanly Face," "Last Witness," and "Zinky Boys."

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