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||Maryse Condé (b. 1937) - original name Maryse Boucolon|
Guadeloupean author of epic fiction, best-known for her historical novel Ségou (1984-85, Segu; The Children of Segu). 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, a small
French/Creole-speaking Caribbean island. She was the youngest of eight
children. Condé's mother was a schoolteacher, and her father ran a
small savings and loan company, called Caisse Coopérative des Prêts,
which he had founded with his friends. Since childhood Condé
was an avid reader, but her mother, who was a deeply religious person, disapproved of her spending time
imagining and writing stories of her own; they were for her "a load of
lies". ('Giving Voice to Guadeloupe' by Maryse Condé, The York Review of Books, February 6, 2019)
When Condé was eight, she wrote a one-act play dedicated to her mother. Both of her parents died before she became known as a writer. Condé never knew her maternal grandmother, an illiterate mulatto born on the island of Marie-Galante, but reconstructed her life in Victoire, les saveurs et les mots (2006, Victoire: My Mother's Mother), a family story about mothers and daughters.
Condé left Guadeloupe at the age of sixteen, when she was sent
by her parents to Paris. She was educated at Lycée Fénéleon and
Sorbonne, majoring in English. "Being so far from my parents had a very
sad side to it", she later recalled, "but I think that's when I
discovered loths of things like the cinema, art, museums, and
with Maryse Condé, by Maryse Condé and
Françoise Pfaff, 1996, p. 2) During her time as a student, she joined
the Communist Youth. In 1958 she married Mamadou Condé, a Guinean
actor; officially they divorced in 1981.
Before following her husband
to Guinea, where he was appointed director of the National Ballet,
Condé had a teaching appointment in the Ivory Coast at the junior high
school in Bingerville.
She continued as an instructor at École Normale Supérieure in Conakry, Guinea. To Condé's
disappointment, all her efforts to fit in never worked for her. She had
little in common with her husband. Moreover, she could not speak
Malinke, she was not a Muslim, she could not cook Guinean dishes. "I
cannot say that there was a rejection,
but certainly a very acute feeling of estrangement. Nobody was prepared
to accept my difference." (Awakening African Women: The Dynamics of Change by Ginette Curry, 2004, p. 74)
Upon the breakup of her marriage – she was not granted a divorce – she went with her children to Ghana, where she taught French at the Ghana Institute of Language in Accra until 1968 and published an anthology of French-language African literature. With the fall of Kwame Nkrumah, he was arrested and expelled from the country. For a period she lived in Senegal, where she was first employed as a translator for IDEP (Institute for Development and Promotion).
Condé's African years were restless. "I know now just how
badly prepared I was to encounter Africa", Condé acknowledged later, "I
had a very romantic vision, and I just wasn't prepared, either
politically or socially." ('Condé, Maryse,' in World Authors 1980-1985,
ed. Vineta Colby, 1991, pp. 172-176) Condé lived in Ghana and Senegal during
the turbulent moments of history of these countries. She met such
political figures as Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of Ghana, António
Agostinho Neto, a famous Angolan nationalist leader, Amilcar Cabral, a
Guinea-Bissaunian guerrilla and politician, and attended gatherings
that included Malcolm X and Ernesto "Che" Guevara as speakers.
This wandering period also was fruitful for her creative development. However, she has confessed Africa helped her to understand that she did not really belong there. "I am not an African. I am West Indian and belong to West Indies. Africa helped me to see exactly who I am." (Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women by Simone A. James Alexander, 2001, p. 10) Condé 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. While in Senegal, she also met Richard Philcox, and Englishman who taught at the high school where she worked and who later became her husband.
Settling eventually with her family in London, she worked for the BBC as a program producer for two years (1968-70), and then taught at Jussieau (1970-72) and Nanterre (1972-80). 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. Scholarly fellowships and invitations to teach brought her then to the United States.
In the 1970s she wrote several plays, which were performed in Paris and in the West Indies. Her first novel, Hérémakhonon (1976), went practically unnoticed in France, but interested French teachers in the United States, who invited her to lecture on Francophone literature. "I spoke very poor English at the time, which turned out to be not very important because the students were mainly concerned with suntans and surfing." (Conversations with Maryse Condé, by Maryse Condé and Françoise Pfaff, 1996, p. 22) The story told 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 à Rihata (1981, A Season in Rihata), 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.
Ségou, Condé's two-part historical novel, 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. Using unknown historical documents - ethnographical notes, genealogies, maps - and personal narratives, Condé focused her story on the fates of four royal sons, Tiekoro, a Muslim missionary, Naba, who is taken as a slave to Brazil, Siga, who adventures in Timbuktu and Fez, and Mobbali, an anti-Muslim mercenary.
In Moi, Tituba, sorcière noire de Salem (1986 I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem), written as an autobiographical transcription of a forgotten witch of Salem, and La Migration des cœurs (1995, Winward Heights) 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.
Winward Heights transposed Emily
Brontë's wild love affair from Wuthering Heights
Caribbean context and set the story against reincarnation cult. The
author herself has remarked that her novel is in fact a reading of a
masterpiece - "une lecture d'un chef-œuvre. ('Traversing the Atlantic: From Brontë's "Wuthering Heights" to Condé's "La Migration des cœurs"' by Vinay Swamy, in Journal of Caribbean Literatures Vol. 4, No. 2, Migrations & Metissages, Fall 2006, pp. 61-74) The first time Condé read the book - in French - she was ten.
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.
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. Desirada (1997, Desirada) dealt again seach of the past, truth and lies, and spans three generations and three countries - Guadeloupe, France and America.
After a 30-year absence, Condé returned in 1986 to Guadeloupe, where she felt herself an outsider, as a writer and wanderer. La vie scélérate(1987,
The Tree of Life), about wandering and
homecoming, was her first novel set in her native country. The role of
the Other in Guadeloupean society became a major subject in Condé's
subsequent works. In Traversée de la mangrove
(1989, Crossing the Mangrove) the protagonist Francis Sancher (Francisco Sanchez), the man from elsewhre, is an admirer of Saint-John Perse's poetry -
he has them in La Pléiade collection. "Whether it is written by Whites
or Blacks, English or Chinese, literature is a search for self, an
effort to elucidate oneself." (Conversations with Maryse Condé, by Maryse Condé and Françoise Pfaff, 1996, p. 74)
From the 1990s, Condé divided 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. After retiring from teaching, she continued to lecture and write. Her home she maintained on her native island. While living in France, she has moved between Paris and Gordes. Many of Condé's works have been translated into English by Richard Philcox, her husband. She is a member of the Union Populaire pour la Libération de la Guadeloupe (UPLG), a radical pro-independece group.
Among Condé's literary awards are the Prix
Liberatur (Germany) for Segu, the Grand Prix Littéraire de la
Femme for I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, the Prix Carbet de
la Caraïbe for Desirada, the Prix Marguerite Yourcenar for Le Cœur à rire et à pleurer (1999, Tales from the Heart: True Stories
from my Childhood), and Le Grand Prix du roman métis for En attendant la montée des eaux (2010). In 2001 she was ordained Commandeur dans
l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la France and 2004 she was made
Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.
Condé was awarded in 2018 the New Academy Prize in Literature, formed as an alternative to the Nobel Prize. Following allegations of corruption and sexual assault and harassment, the Swedish Academy had decided it would postpone its 2018 award. In her statement Condé said that "Guadeloupe is a small country, important to us who are born there, but only mentioned when there are hurricanes and earthquakes. I am happy that our country is now known for other reasons, for this literature prize which I am so happy and proud to receive." Moreover, the literary honour brings out the social background of the Caribbean literature: the Guadeloupean poet Saint-John Perse (pseudonym Alexis Léger), who received the Nobel Prize in 1960, was a member of the white béké class and a descendant of slaveowners; Conde herself is a descendant of African slaves.