albert camus smoking

Read Camus’ Letter to His Elementary School Teacher After Winning the Nobel Prize

After winning the Nobel Prize, philosopher Albert Camus thought to thank his mother first and an elementary school teacher second. Camus wrote this letter of gratitude (below) to his teacher Louis Germain who, according to Letters of Note, “fostered the potential he saw and steered young Camus on a path that would eventually see him write some hugely respected, award-winning novels and essays.”

Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize in 1957 for Literature. He is most well-known for his book  “The Stranger,” and won the award the same year he published the essay “Reflections on the Guillotine.

Camus’ father was killed during World War I when Camus was still an infant, and his mother was “partially deaf and illiterate.”

While Camus is labeled by many to be an existentialist philosopher and writer, he detested the term. He once said in an interview , “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked.  We have even thought of publishing a short statement in which the undersigned declare that they have nothing in common with each other…”

Read the letter below.

19 November 1957

Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.

I don’t make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

[H/T Open Culture, Letters of Note]

  • alphamonster

    Wow. And my students barely remember me past 3rd grade…

    • Nichochar

      How would you know 🙂 ? It took this one receiving the nobel before reaching back

    • Joe Jones

      At least not that they realize. Their first influences are often the strongest. The often forget us, but not what we taught, academically and otherwise.

  • AngelontheEDGE

    That’s lovely. We never know whose lives we move in immeasurable ways.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Camus has always been my hero. His courage in the face of life’s travails has inspired me since I first read “The Stranger”, although my favorite is his novella, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. My 9th grade General Science teacher inspired my lifelong devotion to science and medical practice. Thank you, Mr. Wolfe!

  • Andy Strickland

    Lela Geary, Tom Simpson were two of my greatest influential teachers. She was 6’2″ and her favorite phases always included the word gumption. She introduced me to JRR Tolkien and that began my love of books. He was never my instructor, but as my homeroom teacher, he encouraged me to accept a college scholarship when I received it unexpectedly. Without them and other educators, I would not be me.