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Béatrix Beck was born to Christian Beck, a Belgian writer of Latvian-Italian background, and his Irish wife Kathleen Spiers. Her parents were traveling in Switzerland at the time. She grew up in France and eventually became a French citizen. She became a Communist activist and in 1936, married Naum Szapiro, a Jew and fellow Communist. During World War II, he was arrested by the Vichy authorities and died in a concentration camp, leaving her with a small daughter, Bernadette. She took a series of odd jobs to earn a living, including posing as a model in an art school, and wrote in her spare time. In 1948, she published her first novel, Barny. André Gide, a friend of her father's, hired her as his secretary and encouraged her to write about her own life experiences, such as her mother's suicide. She went on to create autobiographical works such as Une mort irrégulière (An Irregular Death, 1950). She won the Prix Goncourt in 1952 for Léon Morin, prêtre (Léon Morin, Priest), which made her famous. It was later adapted into a film. She bought an apartment in the same Parisian building as Jean-Paul Sartre, 42 rue Bonaparte, which was blown up by the militant group OAS in 1962. In 1966, she traveled to the USA, where she became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Virginia; and to Canada, where she taught at Laval University in Quebec, the University of Sherbrooke, and Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. She returned to France in 1977, and published further novels. In 2006, a play adapted from her work L'Épouvante, l'émerveillement (Terror, Wonder, 1977) was staged. During her career, she produced some 30 works, including 13 novels, short stories, poems, and radio plays. She served as a member of the jury for the Prix Fémina. Beatrice Szapiro, her granddaughter, also became a writer.
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