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World Says Goodbye To a Caribbean Literary Giant

Maryse Condé. Credit: MEDEF

Maryse Condé. Credit: MEDEF

By SWAN
PARIS, Apr 12 2024 – Maryse Condé, the acclaimed Guadeloupean author who died in France last week at the age of 90, will be bid an official farewell April 12, amidst an outpouring of tributes from across the world, and particularly from the Caribbean.

Her funeral service will take place at a famed church in Paris, and the French government has announced there will be a national homage to her April 15.

This follows the community wake organized by authorities and family members April 6 in Pointe-à-Pitre, where the public could join in communion to celebrate the life and work of a writer who “always carried Guadeloupe in her heart”.

Born in 1934 on the Caribbean Island (a French overseas department), Condé studied in mainland France, lived and taught in Africa and the United States, and wrote more than 20 books over her lifetime. She particularly addressed the history and legacies of slavery and colonialism and spoke out against racism, in Europe and elsewhere.

In 2018, she won the “alternative” Nobel Prize for her work, and she said she wished to share the honour with her family, her friends and, “above all, with the Guadeloupean people who will be so thrilled and touched by seeing me receive this award”.

(The honour replaced that year’s official Nobel Prize in Literature, which was postponed to 2019 following a scandal. Condé’s award, formally called The New Academy Prize, was set up by “a wide range of knowledgeable individuals” who accepted the nominations of authors from Sweden’s librarians.)

In its citation, the New Academy declared: “Maryse Condé is a grand storyteller. Her authorship belongs to world literature. In her work, she describes the ravages of colonialism and the postcolonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming. The magic, the dream and the terror is, as also love, constantly present.”

Paying homage after the announcement of her death April 2 at a hospital in Apt, southern France, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “A literary giant, Maryse Condé paints a picture of sorrow and hope, from Guadeloupe to Africa, from the Caribbean to Provence. In a language of struggle and splendour that is unique, universal. Free.”

Condé’s best-known books include the internationally lauded novels Ségou (Segu), Moi, Tituba sorcière (I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem) and, her final publication, L’Évangile du Nouveau Monde (The Gospel According to the New World).

Her writing has been rendered into numerous languages, by translators including her husband Richard Philcox, and she will be remembered for work that moved readers across the world and influenced students at institutions where she taught – such as Columbia University in New York.

“Her life and writing have been an inspiration to many young scholars, students, writers – and will continue to be so,” said Madeleine Dobie, professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia.

(For Columbia’s full tribute to Maryse Condé, see: Tribute – Maryse Condé

Although Condé wrote in French, her work has long transcended linguistic lines in the Caribbean, where a range of Creole languages as well as English, French, Spanish and Dutch are spoken.

“Her contribution is beyond measure,” said Jamaican professor, writer and translator Elizabeth “Betty” Wilson. More than 30 years ago, Wilson and her sister Pamela Mordecai edited an anthology of Caribbean women writers titled Her True-True Name, which carried a story by Condé in English translation.

“I am so sad that she is gone,” Wilson said. “She lived life to the full.”

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