Literary journalist Bernard Pivot refers to the book of his life

Literary journalist Bernard Pivot refers to the book of his life
Literary journalist Bernard Pivot refers to the book of his life

The journalist and writer Bernard Pivot, who knew how to excite the French about the books he presented on television, reviewed on Monday the book of a rich life spent interviewing legendary writers.

The presenter of the legendary Antenne 2 literary program “Apostrophes” died in Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 89, his daughter Cécile announced to AFP.

A book in one hand, his pair of glasses in the other, he also presented the program “Bouillon de culture” and organized from 1985 the Dicos d’or, a spelling championship which quickly became international.

“Bernard Pivot will have been a great ambassador of books, an activist for reading for all,” praised the Minister of Culture Rachida Dati, on X.

A reader as scrupulous as he was brilliant as an interviewer, he established himself over the years as a popular figure well beyond the small Parisian literary milieu.

“Apostrophes”, on Friday evening, was watched by several million viewers. Great connoisseurs of literature or modest book lovers, they appreciated the witticisms, the strikingly concise thoughts, the lyrical tirades or the shouting matches that Bernard Pivot knew how to provoke in the invited authors.

“Sociological phenomenon”

The newspaper Le Monde describes the show as “an unmissable event for authors and the publishing world”. For Télérama magazine, it “will have a lasting impact on literary life”, “a sociological phenomenon and a unique cultural object of its kind”.

His archives, however, reveal a time when Gabriel Matzneff’s relationships with minors were laughed at and people smoked and drank without any restraint.

When it stopped in 1990, after fifteen years, the loss was irreparable to this community. Affable, even-tempered, the native of Lyon was unanimously appreciated there.

“He was cheerful, he was funny. He was friendly, deeply sympathetic,” said another great figure of 80s television, Anne Sinclair, on BFMTV.

The proof with this witticism on Twitter in 2016: “The habit of radio stations to call me when a writer dies is so great that, the day I die, they will call me”.

The host, a lover of good wine and humor, had no equal when it came to relaxing the atmosphere on his set. And, in live conditions, to raise the debate.

Giants of the 20th century sat opposite him to discuss the title they might publish, such as Marguerite Duras, the boxer Mohamed Ali or the Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

“Never satisfied”

“Literature is suffering an immense loss. He is, in my eyes, one of those mediators for whom I would say that in Europe too an old man who dies is a library that burns,” writes the Franco-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou on X.

“He loved books with gusto, like food, except that his literary appetite was never satiated,” said Jacques Attali, writer and former advisor to President François Mitterrand.

“We are losing a great man of culture and TV,” said the general director of France Télévisions, Delphine Ernotte Cunci.

Bernard Pivot, who easily admitted his limitations as a writer, then exerted his influence at the Académie Goncourt. This praised the “insatiable curiosity” and the “high morals” of the man who was a juror from 2004, then president in 2014, and who withdrew at the end of 2019.

The other academicians are grateful to him for his uncompromising independence from the major French publishers. Under his presidency, the editions of the Goncourt Prize in 2006 (“Les Bienveillantes” by Jonathan Littell) and 2010 (“La Carte et le Territoire” by Michel Houellebecq) remain in the annals.

The Saint-Étienne football club also paid tribute to this football enthusiast, loyal to the Greens. “ASSE salutes this man of letters (…) driven, like many others, by the passion of Saint-Etienne”.

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