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Home Culture Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé dies at 90 | Culture

Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé dies at 90 | Culture

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Maryse Condé, the Guadeloupean writer who in her work explored the deep connections between her native Antilles, the history of slavery, colonialism and decolonization, and her own nomadic and hectic life between America, Europe and Africa, has died. She was 90 years old and had long lost her sight and had difficulty moving and could not write, although in an interview three years ago in her farmhouse in Provence she confessed to having reached a kind of Zen state, a form of plenitude. “It is now, when I am old, that life is easy,” she said. “I don’t have money problems. My children are adults. For me, living means being a little unhappy and fighting, all the time.”

Condé died on the night of Monday to Tuesday in a hospital in Apt, near her home in the south of France, her husband informed Agence France Presse. She is the author of thirty essays, plays, memoirs and, above all, novels – among them the celebrated Segou y I, Tituba, the black witch of Salem―, and director for years of the department of French and Francophone Studies at Columbia University Condé belonged to an unclassifiable lineage. Born in Guadeloupe, an outermost territory of the Republic, she was French by passport, but she campaigned for the independence of her native archipelago. She wrote in French and nominally belonged to the Francophonie like her elders, the Antillean poet Aimé Césaire, and the Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor, but she stated that in reality she wrote “neither French nor Creole,” but “in “Maryse Condé.”

In this particular language, the mariseconded, and far from the circuits of Parisian literary power, he built a powerful and popular work that obtained more recognition in countries like the United States than in France, where he died without obtaining any of the great literary prizes. His name was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He received the alternative Nobel in 2018, the year in which it was suspended due to a sexual scandal. President Emmanuel Macron awarded him the Order of Merit of the French Republic in 2020. He then said: “I am moved by the battles you have fought and, above all, by this kind of fever that drives you, this indiscipline, this permanent dislocation.”

Maryse Condé, in an image from 2015.ADRIAN DENNIS (AFP/Getty Images)

Maryse Condé, when we visited her in January 2021, proudly showed the photograph alongside Macron and dedicated by the president. The pandemic was still ravaging the world, but she was no longer wearing a mask, unlike the photographer and editor, as well as her husband and English translator, Richard Philcox, who was present at the interview. She couldn’t read anymore: she listened to audiobooks. Not even writing: she dictated them to Richard or a friend. But in this house on the outskirts of Gordes, a picturesque village in the Provencal Luberon mountains, far from Africa and the Caribbean, he said he had found “a certain rest” after a life made up of comings and goings across several continents, of combats and political disappointments and family separations between continents and identities.

His father was a banker; his mother, a teacher. She was the youngest of eight children in a family of the black bourgeoisie of Pointe-à-Pitre, in Guadeloupe. They considered themselves “super blacks.” “My parents were victims of colonial ideas, but they didn’t realize it,” she explained in the aforementioned interview, published in . “They wanted to show that black people like them could behave well and set an example.” “Black skin, white mask,” said the decolonization intellectual Frantz Fanon to refer to this type of colonized who did not know they were colonized.

It was during her studies in Paris that Maryse Condé discovered her blackness: “France was deeply racist… There I realized that I was not like the French.” Later, in Africa, where she landed in the midst of the decolonization process, the future writer definitively freed herself from her family roots and shaped her identity in a few years of economic difficulties and political persecution. She lived in Ivory Coast, Guinea, Ghana, Senegal. She was a teacher and journalist, and had four children, with the Haitian journalist Jean Dominique and with the actor Mamadou Condé. “African women,” she said, taught me a lot. They are strong and beautiful. “They last a lot.” The men? Not so much: “In the environment I lived in, men weren’t really solid pillars to lean on.” Her vision of Africa was not at all idealistic: “She never considered me her daughter, a weird cousin at best.” She reconstructed that stage in Life without makeuppublished in Spanish, as a good part of his work, by Impedimenta, and translated by Martha Asunción Alonso.

“I started (writing) when I was 40,” he recalled in the living room of his house. “I couldn’t before! “She had four children, she had to raise them without a husband.” It was upon meeting Richard, a white Englishman, that he found “a calm and balance” to write. She defended, inspired by the Brazilian Oswald de Andrade, “literary cannibalism,” which allowed traditions and continents to mix: “A colonized person can never be entirely free from the colonizing country. I, for example, love classical music. We do like the Indians: we eat what we think is the best from the others and we try to integrate it.”

When we visited, the novel had just been published The desired in Spanish and French he had published a few years before The fabulous and sad fate of Iván and Ivana. He explained that he was finalizing a new novel, The gospel of the new world. She seemed at peace, after all. “I was looking for something, and this led me to travel. I never found it,” she said. “And I think I haven’t fully found myself. It is complex to get to know yourself and who you are. “It has taken me a lifetime.”

‘Isla Maryse Condé’

Martha Assumption Alonso, translator of Count

Maryse Condé was born on an island. Although perhaps the most accurate thing is to say that she was an island. An island adrift in the stormy sea of ​​European, male, white and Eurocentric literary canons. But living adrift does not necessarily mean ignoring the direction of the horizon. At each stage of her nomadic odyssey, the writer with no “fixed abode” that she—in her own words—she was, never ignored where she was sailing. Her compass was always the truth. Maryse Condé looked and lived the world head-on, without armor or a trace of makeup, trembling with the courage typical of brave women. And so she told us.

He repeated it ad nauseam: he did not write in French, nor in Creole. Maryse Condé sang all her lives in the inimitable Maryse Condé language. What does she mean? I have never stopped asking myself the question, nor finding new answers to it. Because perhaps the Maryse Condé language is precisely that: an infinite game of matryoshkas wide open.

Immortal generosity

Enrique Redel, editor of Impedimenta

Maryse Condé arrived at Impedimenta in the fall of 2018, led by her translator, Martha Asunción Alonso. She told us about a Guadeloupean writer that we didn’t know. She gave us the translation of what would be her first work in Impedimenta, Heart that laughs, heart that cries. We fell in love instantly. Since 2019, and until now, every January has opened with a work by Maryse. She wrote from the periphery of the Francophonie, but she is a central figure of that movement. In her, a well-read woman from a family of “super blacks”, who always felt French and also rejected by France, echoes of Rousseau, Genet and the great African writers can be heard. She was a feminist when no one was, a single mother and a professor at the Sorbonne specializing in the issue of slavery.

She had been very ill for years, prey to what she herself called “Bocolon syndrome” (her family’s maiden name), a degenerative disease that claimed the lives of part of her family, and now at the age of 90 she could not see , could not hear and could barely hold objects in his hand. Still, she was writing until the last day, dictating her texts to her husband and English translator, Richard Philcox, and it was that strength, that immense creative generosity, that made her seem almost immortal to us. .

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