Award-winning French author Maryse Conde dies at 90

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French writer Mariese Condé, who died on Tuesday aged 90, became one of the greatest historians of the struggles and triumphs of the descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the Caribbean.

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But the author, born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, didn’t write her first book until she was nearly 40, sparking a controversy that led authorities in several countries to order copies destroyed.

The mother of four, who once said she “didn’t have the confidence to present her writing to the outside world”, was in her eighties before winning a major award in 2018.

The new Academy Award – created in Sweden when the Nobel Literature Prize was put on hold because of the rape scandal – praised how Condé “describes the chaos of colonialism and post-colonialism in a language that is precise and poignant.” Both are”.

By then the close-cropped gray-haired Francophone novelist was confined to a wheelchair due to a degenerative disease.

But he was pleased, he said in a video message, that the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, which is part of France, is usually visited “only when there are hurricanes or earthquakes”.

called out African dictators

Condé was one of the first to expose the corruption of newly independent African states, tackling racism, sexism and multiple black identities in more than 30 books.

His first book “Heremakhonon”, which means “Waiting for the End” in the Malinke language of West Africa, caused a scandal in 1976 and three West African countries ordered copies destroyed.

“In those days, the whole world was talking about the success of African socialism,” he later wrote.

“I dare say that…these countries were the victims of dictators willing to starve their populations.”

She enjoyed popular and critical success with novels such as “Ségu” and “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem”, but Condé still felt neglected by the French literary establishment, and never won top prizes.

Recognition came late in 2020, when President Emmanuel Macron awarded him the Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit, paying tribute to “the battles he fought, and the fever that existed within him more than anything else”. .

black awakening

Conde’s life was almost as eventful as his historical novels.

Born Maryse Boucollon on February 11, 1934, she was the youngest of eight children in a middle-class family in Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean, and only realized that when she left to join an elite class, She happened to be black. When she was 19 she went to school in Paris.

Growing up, she had never heard of slavery nor of Africa, and her mother – a schoolteacher – banned the use of Creole in the home.

His literary imagination was energized by Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”, which he later transplanted to the Caribbean in “Windward Heights”.

In Paris her mind was opened to questions of identity when she met the Martinique writer and politician Aimé Césaire, one of the founders of the negative literary movement that sought to reclaim black history and reject French colonial racism. Was.

But unlike them, Condé was an ardent believer in independence from France.

“I understand that I am neither French nor European,” she said in a 2011 documentary. “That I am from another world and that I need to learn to tear apart the lies and discover the truth about my society and myself.”

dramatic life

Conde fell in love with a Haitian journalist, who abandoned her when she became pregnant. Unmarried and with a young son, she left university.

Three years later she married Mamadou Condé, a Guinean actor, and they moved to the West African country.

This satisfied his need to explore his African roots, but life in the capital, Conakry, was difficult. “It was not easy to feed and protect four children in a city where there was nothing,” he recalled.

Her marriage to Condé broke up and she moved to Ghana and then Senegal, eventually marrying Richard Philcox, a British teacher who became her translator and, she said, gave her the “peace and stability” to become a writer. Offered.

She followed the scandal of “Heremakhonon” with her “Segu” novels, which focused on the confusing experience of a Caribbean woman in Africa, set in the Bambara Empire of 19th-century Mali.

She then published “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem” in 1986, about a slave who became one of the first women accused of witchcraft in the United States during the 1692 Salem witch trials.

This won him American praise and Conde lived in New York for 20 years before moving to the south of France and founding the Center for Francophone Studies at Columbia University.

Her later works were more autobiographical, including “Victoire: My Mother’s Mother”, about her grandmother, who was a cook for a white Guadeloupean family.


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