Svetlana Alexievich
Journalist and writer Svetlana Alexievich, pictured at an awards ceremony in 2013, won the Nobel Prize for Literature Thursday, Oct. 8. AFP/Getty Images

Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature Thursday. A journalist of Ukrainian and Belarusian heritage, Alexievich, 67, was announced the winner of the prestigious award, which includes a gold medal and $1.2 million cash prize, for her writings that take an intimate look at the triumphs and tragedies that shaped the history of the Soviet Union.

Born in Ukraine in 1948 shortly after the end of World War II, Alexievich grew up in Belarus under Soviet rule. Her works of fiction and (primarily) nonfiction chronicle such formative events as World War II, the Soviet-Afghan war, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the fall of communism.

The investigative author's first novel, "The Unwomanly Face of War," was published in 1985 and is based on the real-life stories of women who fought against the Nazis during World War II. When presenting the award, the Nobel Prize committee praised her "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

Alexievich, whose books have been published in 19 countries and sold millions of copies, is still unknown to many people, especially in the United States. Her style can be characterized by an investigative, journalistic approach to literature that often uses techniques from oral history.

“I’ve been searching for a literary method that would allow the closest possible approximation to real life," she said in an earlier interview, as reported by the Guardian. She added "Reality has always attracted me like a magnet; it tortured and hypnotized me. I wanted to capture it on paper."

Alexievich is the first nonfiction writer to win the prestigious prize in more than 50 years. She is also the 14th woman since the prize began in 1901.