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Call for Papers: Maryse Condé (1934-2024): What Is Africa to Me?

2024-04-30

Special Issue of Research in African Literatures

In graduate school, while I was working as Research Assistant on Ambroise Kom’s Dictionnaire des œuvres littéraires négro-africaines de langue française, 1970-1990 (Dictionary of Negro-African literary texts, 1970-1990), a proposal submitted by Robert Pageard stood out. This critic proposed to write an entry on Maryse Condé’s Segu, arguing that “l’auteur est certes guadeloupéenne mais cette œuvre paraît significante pour la littérature africaine” [the author is certainly Guadeloupean, but this novel seems significant for African literature]. Pageard’s argument was rejected without discussion. French anthropologist Anne-Marie Jeay, a reader of the same Segu, casts doubt on Maryse Condé as an authoritative voice capable of speaking about Africa. She introduces Condé as “Noire mais guadeloupéenne” [black but Guadeloupean]. She further claims that “comme s’il suffisait d’avoir la peau noire et quelque expérience de l’Afrique pour être capable d’écrire un roman historique se déroulant au Mali durant le XIXe siècle” [As if being black and having lived in Africa was enough to qualify one to write a historical novel set in Mali during the 19th century]. Blackness was not enough to consecrate Maryse Condé as a credible speaker on Africa, if we were to believe Jeay.

Maryse Condé’s Segu—and this could be said to many of her works--ignites many controversies involving mostly the defense of entrenched presumptions (or assumptions) of literary frontiers and categories. Black, despite being Guadeloupean or Black, but Guadeloupean, these two stances call attention to Condé’s enduring engagement with the African continent, in her work and her personal biography. Condé, in typical fashion, does not provide stable and reassuring answers to these controversies. The title of the English translation of her last autobiography comes in the form of a question: “Maryse Condé: What Is Africa to Me?” The title comes from a passage in the book in which Condé challenges the exotic temptation (“le frisson douteux de l’exotisme” [the dubious thrill of exotism] that may drive the return of some to Africa: “What did Africa mean to these African American tourists? An exotic change of scenery from a harsh daily existence defined by racism and shackled by the slow progress of their civil rights?”

This special issue invites Condé’s readers to continue the conversation. Beyond what may be termed, for lack of a better expression, her African cycle (Heremakhonon, A Season in Rihata, Segu, The Children of Segu), Condé has continued to weave Africa in the black diasporic tapestry through novels such as The Last of the African Kings, History of the Cannibal Woman, Who Slashed Célanire’s Throat, The Fabulous and Sad Destiny of Ivan and Ivana, Waiting for the Waters to Rise. We invite contributions that may consider some of the following aspects:

  • Maryse Condé and her African critics: controversies surrounding
  • What Is Africa to Maryse Condé?
  • African traces in Maryse Condé’s novels and thinking.
  • Maryse Condé in conversation with African writers: Intertextual networks.
  • Maryse Condé’s oeuvre in conversation with African orature.
  • Africa in Maryse Condé’s global and diasporic tapestry

Send abstracts by August 1, 2024, to Cilas Kemedjio (cilas.kemedjio@rochester.edu). After the submission stage, we anticipate that contributors will gather for a workshop (with advanced drafts of their papers) in the Spring of 2025.