Joseph Zobel

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Joseph Zobel (April 26, 1915, in Martinique – June 18, 2006 in Alès, France) is the author of several novels and short-stories in which social issues are at the forefront. Although his most famous novel, La Rue Cases-Nègres, was published some twenty years after the great authors of Negritude published their works, Zobel was once asked if he considered himself "the novelist of Negritude".[1]


His most famous novel, La Rue Cases-Nègres (often translated as Black Shack Alley or Sugar Cane Alley), was published in Paris 1950. The novel is an account of a young boy raised by his grandmother in a post-slavery - but still plantation-based - Martinique. The struggles of the impoverished cane-sugar plantation workers, and the ambitions of a loving grandmother who works hard to put the main character through school are the core focus of the novel, which also describes life in a colonial society. Zobel stated that the novel was his version of Richard Wright's Black Boy (1945) in that they are both semi-autobiographical.[1]

The novel was adapted for the screen by Euzhan Palcy in 1983 as Sugar Cane Alley.

While La Rue Cases-Nègres is Zobel's most renowned work, the author started his writing career in 1942 during World War Two with Diab-la (a tentative English title could be "The Devil's Garden"), a socially conscious novel similar to Jacques Roumain's Masters of the Dew (published a year or more later). With Diab-la, Zobel tells the powerful story of a sugar-cane plantation worker freeing himself from colonial exploitation by creating a garden in a fishermen's village of Southern Martinique.

Leaving Martinique in 1946 to pursue ethnology and drama studies in Paris, Zobel spent some years in Paris and Fontainebleau, before relocating to Senegal by 1957. Writing a few short stories, he had a notable impact in the cultural life of French-speaking West Africa as a public radio producer.

A noted poet and a gifted sculptor as well as a writer, Zobel retired to a small village in southern France in 1974 and died in 2006.


  1. ^ a b Warner, Keith Q., 1979. Foreword: We All Had a M'man Tine. Black Shack Alley, 1996.

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