A Publisher Becomes France’s Minister of Culture: Actes Sud’s Françoise Nyssen

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Having led the publishing house her father founded to acclaim, Françoise Nyssen is named to head up Emmanuel Macron’s cultural ministry in Paris. She has never held an elected office.

Françoise Nyssen. Image: ActuaLitté, CC 2.0

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘One of France’s Most Dynamic’
She may head up what Le Monde‘s Alain Beuve-Méry describes as “the smallest of the major publishing houses, far behind Hachette, Editis or Madrigall (of the Gallimard group),” but Françoise Nyssen, CEO of Éditions Actes Sud, has been named minister of culture in France’s new Macron government.

Nyssen is Belgian by birth, a naturalized French citizen who holds degrees in chemistry and urban planning. Her entry into publishing in 1980 was as president of a publishing cooperative, Paradou, and became chairwoman of the board at Actes Sud seven years later. With husband Jean-Paul Capitani, she established the Actes Sud bookshop and now there are locations in Arles, Paris, Calais, and Marseille.

Longtime Publishing Perspectives contributor Olivia Snaije at online book discovery platform Bookwitty describes Actes Sud as one of France’s most dynamic independent publishing companies and “one of the jewels in France’s publishing crown.” Actes Sud is headquartered in Arles, has offices as well in Paris, and was founded by Nyssen’s father, Hubert, in 1977.

In her column at Bookwitty, Snaije writes, “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.

“[The publishing house’s] 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. ”

At Politico, Pierre Briançon includes Nyssen in his look at Macron’s cabinet appointments, noting that “half of the cabinet are new to politics and most have never held elected office before.

“One such newcomer,” he writes, “is Françoise Nyssen, head of highbrow publisher Actes Sud, founded by her father.”

Le Monde quotes Nyssen as writing about the publishing house, saying, “We are lucky to publish authors from all countries who enrich the French language with their texts. Many of these authors express themselves with talent and courage to speak of obscurantism, lack of freedom, confinement, hatred of others at the risk of their lives.

“I think, among others, of Alaa Al-Aswany in Egypt , Kamel Daoud in Algeria , Salman Rushdie under threat of a fatwa, in Asli Erdogan in Turkey and many others.”

Cultural Access, Competition, Diversity
“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.”Françoise Nyssen

Clarisse Fabre at Le Monde looks at some of the issues Nyssen is expected to address as part of Macron’s cabinet. They include an incentive program for municipalities to have libraries open on Sundays, and an arts allowance like that offered in Italy in which €500 grants will be given to 18-year-olds to be spent on cultural events and products.

Also on Macron’s platform in the cultural arena are issues of making cultural institutions’ executive appointments more reflective of the French population’s diversity; a major heritage initiative; and competition issues around the media offerings in France of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple.

Snaije quotes Nyssen from a 2015 interview, in which Nyssen spoke about her work as a publisher, saying, “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 includes the work of the essayists Pierre Rabhi and Naomi Klein.”

A short article in Le Figaro notes that Nyssen has been awarded the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award (1991), was named to the Order of Arts and Letters in 2008, and to the Legion of Honor in 2013.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.