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Biography of Maryse CONDé

Maryse CONDé

Maryse CONDé
Born on 11/02/1937 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Maryse Condé (born  February 11, 1937 ) is a Guadeloupean French language author. 


Guadeloupean author of epic fiction, best-known for her historical novel SÈGOU (1984-85). Condé's multifaceted novels question stereotypical images of literary characters, colonialism, sex and gender. She has also published children's books, a booklet about Guadeloupe, book-length essays about francophone women writers and oral literatures in Martinique and Guadeloupe, critical booklets about Aimé Césaire's Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, Antillean fiction, and numerous articles mainly about Caribbean literature and cultural studies.

"She was a young woman who was pretty in an odd way. Her lovely blond hair hidden under a sombre hood fuzzed up and formed a luminous halo around her head. She was wrapped in shawls and blankets as though she were shivering despite the warm, stuffy air in the cabin. She smiled at me and in a voice as pleasant as the waters of the River Ormond she said: so you're Tituba? How cruel it must be to be separated from your own family. From your father, your mother, and your people.'" (from I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, 1986)

Maryse Condé was born in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, (February 11,1937) into a small French/Creole-speaking Caribbean island. In 1953 she was sent by her parents to Paris, where she was educated at Lycée Fénéleon and Sorbonne, majoring in English. In 1958 she married Mamadou Condé, an African actor; they divorced in 1981. From 1960 to 1964 she was instructor at École Normale
Supérieure, Conakry, Guinea. Then she worked at Ghana Institute of Language in Accra (1966-68) and Lycée Charles de Gaulle, Saint Louis, Senegal (1966-68).

Condé's African year were restless. She had to move from one country to another to escape arrests of dissidents. These years of wandering also were fruitful for her creative development. She has argued that too much familiarity with a place does not allow an author to write about it more truthfully but only to 'mythify' it.

When Sekou Touré government tightened its policy against opposition, Condé fled to Ghana. In 1968 Condé moved to London. After working for the BBC as a program producer, she taught at Jussieau (1970-72), Nanterre (1972-80), and Sorbonne Nouvelle. In 1975 Condé recived her Ph.D. Her dissertation in comparative literature dealt with black stereotypes in Caribbean literature. Between the years 1980 and 1985, Condé was a course director at Sorbonne.

In the 1970s she wrote several plays, which were performed in Paris and in the West Indies. Her first novel, Hérémakhonon(1976), told a story of a young black West Indian woman, Veronica, who is educated in Paris and searches her roots in Africa. In Paris she had a white lover, and in Africa she becomes the mistress of the Minister of Defence, who turns out to be thoroughly corrupt. The theme continued in the novel Une saison in Rihata (1981), where Condé's African and Caribbean characters are lost in a corrupt country. Also in this work the protagonist is a Guadeloupian woman, However, Condé had denied that Veronica was an autobiographical character.

Condé's novels are set at cultural intersection, exploring the intrusion of European imperialism into Africa and the resulting diaspora cultures, particularly that of the West Indies. In her early works the author explored the myth that the rediscovery of African ancestry can solve the Caribbean question. Later Condé has focused on West Indian net of past myths, contemporary corruption, and disillusionment about the possibility to erase a colonial past of dispossession.

Condé's two-part historical novel,Ségou, became a best-seller and made her a major contemporary Caribbean writer. Set in the African kingdom of Ségou (now part of Mali), it traces the history of the royal Traore family in its encounter with slave trade, Islam, Christianity, and French colonialism from between 1797 and 1860. The work follows the fates of four royal sons to Brazil and the Caribbean using unknown historical documents - ethnographical notes, genealogies, maps - and personal narratives.

Written as an autobiographical transcription of the heroine's life, Tituba is a story of the forgotten witch of Salem. In this work and Winward Heights (1995) Condé has reinterpreted stories and historical events that have became a part of Western cultural heritage. Tituba, the daughter of a Barbadian slave woman, was arrested in Massachusetts in the village of Salem along with the white girls in the witch trials of 1692, which also inspired Arthur Miller's famous play The Crucible (1953). She was released from jail, but there is not much records of what happened to her afterwards. Condé adds to what little is known about her life, creating her a fictional childhood as an orphan in Barbados. There she is initiated into another, benign, kind of witchcraft, brought from Africa by an old woman, Mama Yaya, before being sold to the family who bring her to Salem. In Puritan New England her talent is considered a threat to society. La colonie du nouveau monde (1993) ends with disillusionment. It presented a mock version of the colonial enterprise. Trying to overcome their alienation, a couple from Guadeloupe - who met in psychiatric institution in France - stage a return to the place 'before things went wrong,' i.e. Egypt. Finally their sad journey ends in Columbia.

"Nos mythes ont la vie dure. Nous croyons que les liens de parenté sont les plus solides. Le sang n'est pas de l'eau, ressassent les voix sorties d'Afrique. Tous ces enfants torturés, maltraités, dépecés, tous ces fétus jetés dans les poubelles, mis à pourrir dans les grands bois ne les ont pas réduites au silence et nous sommes là à répéter, après elles, des choses que la réalité contredit. Le remords m'a pris quand je t'ai vue devenir le fantôme de ce que tu étais, plus de sourire, des joues creusées; des yeux sans lumière, jusqu'à tes cheveux qui perdaient leur bonne couleur de paille de maïs. Est-ce que tu n'étais pas mieux là où tu étais?" (from Desirada, 1997)

La migration des coeurs from 1995 transposed Emily Brontë's wild love affair from Wuthering Heights to a Caribbean context and set the story against reincarnation cult. This experiment in intertextuality has been considered Condé's finest achievement to date. Heathcliff appears as Razye and Cathy's daughter suffers the consequences of her mother's choices. Noteworthy, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre inspired Jean Rhys's best known novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which gave voice to Edward Rochester's mad wife, Bertha Mason. DESIRADA (1997) dealt again seach of the past, truth and lies, and spans three generations and three countries - Guadeloupe, France and America.

Since 1986 Condé has devided her time between Guadeloupe and the US. She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland, Harvard, and the University of Columbia. Her home she maintained on her native island. Condé's husband, Richard Philcox, has translated many of her works into English. During her stay at the University of California at Los Angeles, Condé wrote Moi, Tituba sorcière (1986), which was awarded the Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme. Condé has received several awards, including Boucheron prize (1986).

Maryse Condé: People often ask me for whom am I writing. The answer is I am writing for myself. I write about slavery, Africa, the condition of black people throughout the world because I want to order my thoughts, to understand the world, and to be at peace with myself. I write to try to find answers to the questions I ask myself. Writing for me is a type of therapy, a way to be safe and sound.

 

 

Selected works:

LE MORNE DE MASSABIELLE, 1971 (play) - The Morne of Massabielle (trans. by Richard Philcox)
DIEU NOUS L'A DONNÉ, 1972 (play)
LA MORT D'OLUWEMI D'AJUMAKI, 1973 (play, prod. 1975)
trans.: DE CHRISTOPHE COLUMBE À FIDEL CASTRO by Eric Williams, 1975
trans.: HÉRÉMAKHONON, 1976 - Heremakhonon (trans. by Richard Philcox)
ed.: LE ROMAN ANTILLAIS, 1977
ed.: LA POÉSIE ANTILLAISE, 1977
LA CIVILISATION DU BOSSALE, 1978
LE PROFIL D'UNE ÆUVRE: CAHIER D'UN RETOUR AU PAYS NATAL, 1978
CAHIER D'UN RETOUR AU PAYS NATAL; CÉSAIRE: ANALYSE CRITIQUE, 1978
LA PAROLE DES FEMMES, 1979
UNA SAISON À RIHATA, 1981 - A Season in Rihata (trans. by Richard Philcox)
SÉGOU: LES MURAILLES DE TERRE, 1984 - Segu (trans. by Barbara Bray)
SÉGOU II, 1985 - The Children of Segu (trans. by Linda Coverdale)
PAYS-MÊLÉ SUIVI DE NANNA-YA, 1985
MOI, TITUBA, SORCIÉRE NOIRE SALEM, 1986 - I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem I (trans. by Richard Philcox)
LA VIE SCÉLÉRATE, 1987 - The Tree of Life (translated by Victoria Reiter)
HAÏTÍ CHÉRIE, 1987
PENSION LES ALIZÉS, 1988 (play, prod. 1989)
EN ATTENDANT LE BONHEUR, 1988
GUADELOUPE, 1988 (photographs by Jean Du Boisberranger)
VICTOR ET LES BARRICADES, 1989
TRAVERSÉE DE LA MANGROVE, 1989 - Crossing the Mangrove (trans. by Richard Philcox)
AN TAN REVOLISYON, 1989 (play, prod. 1989)
VICTOR ET LES BARRICADES, 1989
HUGO LE TERRIBLE, 1990
ed.: BOUQUET DE VOIX POUR GUY TIROLIEN, 1990 (with Alain Rutil)
No Woman No Cry, 1991
ed.: L'HÉRITAGE DE CALIBAN, 1992
LES DERNIERS ROIS MAGES, 1992 - The Last of the African Kings (trans. by Richard Philcox)
LA COLONIE DU NOUVEAU MONDE, 1993
LA MIGRATOION DES COEURS, 1995 - Winward Heights (trans. by Richard Philcox)
DESIRADA, 1997 - Desirada (trans. by Richard Philcox)
LE COEUR À RIRE ET À PLEURER, 1999 - Tales from the heart : true stories from my childhood (trans. by Richard Philcox)
CÉLANIRE COU-COUPE: ROMAN FANTASTIQUE, 2000 - Who slashed Celanire’s throat? (trans. by Richard Philcox)
LA BELLE CRÉOLE: ROMAN, 2001
HISTOIRE DE LA FEMME CANNIBALE, 2003 - The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel (trans. by Richard Philcox)
VICTOIRE, LA SAVEUR ET LES MOTS: RÉCIT, 2006



Last update : 03/24/2011









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