Writer Béatrix Beck was born to Belgian parents while they were travelling in Switzerland in 1914. Her father was from mixed Latvian and Italian origins and was a writer. Her mother was Irish and later committed suicide.
She was educated in France and gained a degree in Law, after which she became a Communist activist and married a stateless Jew, Naun Szapiro in 1936.
The couple had a daughter before Szapiro was arrested by the Vichy authorities and sent to his death in a concentration camp. She took a series of humble jobs to make ends meet and to support her child, while writing in her spare time. Her novel Barney was published in 1948 and came to the attention of the famous novelist André Gide, who hired her as his secretary, and encouraged her writing.
Her second novel Une Mort Irrégulière was published in 1950 and her third, Léo Morin, prêtre, in 1952, winning her the prestigious Goncourt Prize. She used the prize money to buy an apartment in the same building as Sartre's, and took French nationality in 1955.
Having published two more novels to considerable success, she travelled to North America in 1966, to teach literature at the University of California at Berkley, the University of Virginia and Laval University in the USA and then at Sherbrooke, Quebec City and the Laurentian University in Canada.
Her novel Noli recounts her experiences in Canada, and was published on her return to France in 1977. In 1979, her novel La Décharge won the France-Inter Book Prize, and her 1984 novel L'enfant-chat won the Book Prize from the readers of Trente millions d'amis (the magazine of the SPA, the French equivalent of the RSPCA).
Her output was recognised by the 1989 Prince of Monaco Prize, and she has published a further thirteen novels since then.