Maryse Condé

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Maryse Condé
Maryse Condé in 2008
Maryse Condé in 2008
BornMaryse Boucolon
(1937-02-11) 11 February 1937 (age 82)
Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe
EducationLycée Fénelon
Alma materUniversity of Paris
Notable worksSegu
SpouseMamadou Condé[1] Richard Philcox [2]

Maryse Condé (née Boucolon; February 11, 1937) is a French (Guadeloupean) author of historical fiction, best known for her novel Segu (1984–85).[3] In addition, she is a scholar of Francophone literature and Professor Emerita of French at Columbia University.[4]

Her novels, written in French, have been translated into English, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.[5] She has won Grand prix littéraire de la Femme (1986), Prix de L’Académie francaise (1988), and the New Academy Prize in Literature (2018) for her works.[6]


Born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, she was the youngest of eight children. She knew she wanted to be a writer when she first encountered Wuthering Heights as a child.[7] She wrote her first novel at the age of 11.[8] After having graduated from high school, she attended Lycée Fénelon and the Sorbonne in Paris, where she majored in English.

In 1959, she married Mamadou Condé, a Guinean actor. They eventually had four children together.

Between the years 1960-1972,[9] she taught in Guinea, Ghana (from where she was deported in the 1960s because of politics), and Senegal. She returned to Paris, and taught Francophone literature at Paris VII (Jussieu), X (Nanterre), and Ill (Sorbonne Nouvelle).[5] In 1975, she completed her M.A. and Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris in comparative literature, examining black stereotypes in Caribbean literature.[6][5]

She did not publish her first novel until she was nearly 40 because "[she] didn’t have confidence in [herself] and did not dare present [her] writing to the outside world."[7]

In 1981, she and Condé divorced, having long been separated. The following year she married Richard Philcox, the English-language translator of most of her novels.

In 1985 Condé was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach in the US. She became a professor of French and Francophone literature at Columbia University in New York City.[6] In 1993, Condé was the writer in residence for the fourteenth Puterbaugh Conference on World Literature at the University of Oklahoma.[10] In addition to her creative writing, Condé has had a distinguished academic career. In 2004 she retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley; UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre. She and her husband split their time between New York City and Guadeloupe.

Literary significance[edit]

Condé's novels explore racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales, including the Salem witch trials in I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1986); the 19th-century Bambara Empire of Mali in Segu (1980); and the 20th-century building of the Panama Canal and its influence on increasing the West Indian middle class in The Tree of Life (1992). Her novels trace the relationships between African peoples and the diaspora, especially the Caribbean.

Her first novel, Heremakhonon, was so incredibly controversial that it was pulled from the shelves after six months.[11] While the story closely parallels Condé's own life during her first stay in Guinea, and is written as a first-person narrative, she stresses that it is not an autobiography.[12] The book is the story, as she described it, of an "'anti-moi', an ambiguous persona whose search for identity and origins is characterized by a rebellious form of sexual libertinage".[12]

She has kept considerable distance from most Caribbean literary movements, such as Negritude and Creolité, and has often focused on topics with strong feminist and political concerns. A radical activist in her work as well as in her personal life, Condé has admitted: "I could not write anything... unless it has a certain political significance. I have nothing else to offer that remains important."[6]

Condé's later writings have become increasingly autobiographical, such as 2001's Tales From the Heart: True Stories From My Childhood and 2006's Victoire, a biography of her maternal grandmother in which she explores themes of motherhood, femininity, race relations, and the family dynamic in the postcolonial Caribbean. 2004's Who Slashed Celanire's Throat shows traces of Condé's paternal great-grandmother.

However, her novel Windward Heights (2008) is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which she had first read at the age of 14. She had long wanted to create a work around it, as an act of "homage." Her novel is set in Guadeloupe, and race and culture are featured as issues that divide people.[6] Reflecting on how she drew from her Caribbean background in writing this book, she said:

"To be part of so many worlds—part of the African world because of the African slaves, part of the European world because of the European education—is a kind of double entendre. You can use that in your own way and give sentences another meaning. I was so pleased when I was doing that work, because it was a game, a kind of perverse but joyful game."[6]

Among her plays are: An tan revolisyon, published in 1991, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1989; Comedie d'Amour, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1993; Dieu nous l'a donné, published in 1972, first performed in Paris in 1973; La mort d'Oluwemi d'Ajumako, published in 1973, first performed in 1974 in Gabon; Le morne de Massabielle, first version staged in 1974 in Puteaux (France), later staged in English in New York as The Hills of Massabielle (1991); Pension les Alizes, published in 1988, first staged in Guadeloupe and subsequently staged in New York as Tropical Breeze Hotel (1995); Les sept voyages de Ti Noel (written in collaboration with José Jernidier), first performed in Guadeloupe in 1987.[13]

Maryse Condé's literary archive (Maryse Condé Papers) are held at Columbia University Libraries.


She has won Le Grand Prix Litteraire de la Femme (1986), Le Prix de L’Académie Francaise (1988), and Le Prix Carbet de la Caraibe (1997) for her works.[6][10] In 2001, she was named a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.[10] In 2018, Condé became the first recipient of the New Academy Prize in Literature.[14] [15]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Heremakhonon (1976)
  • Desirada (1979)
  • Crossing the Mangrove (1985)
  • I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1986)
  • Segu (1987)
  • A Season in Rihata (1988)
  • The Children of Segu (1989)
  • An Tan Revolysion (play, 1989)
  • Tree of Life (1992)
  • The Last of the African Kings (1994)
  • Windward Heights (1995)
  • Le coeur à rire et à pleurer - Souvenirs de mon enfance (1999)
  • Who Slashed Celanire's Throat?: A Fantastical Tale (2004)
  • The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel (2007)
  • Like Two Brothers (play, 2007)
  • Victoire: My Mother's Mother (2006)


  1. ^ "Maryse CONDE", Aflit, University of Western Australia/French.
  2. ^ [1], JSTOR
  3. ^ Condé, Maryse, and Richard Philcox. Tales from the Heart: True Stories from My Childhood. New York: Soho, 2001.
  4. ^ Moudileno, Lydie. "Maryse Conde." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Gale, 2006. Biography in Context. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "Maryse Condé | Columbia | French". Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Rebecca Wolff, Interview: "Maryse Condé" Archived November 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 68, Summer 1999, accessed 27 April 2016.
  7. ^ a b Quinn, Annalisa (October 12, 2018). "Maryse Condé Wins an Alternative to the Literature Nobel in a Scandal-Plagued Year". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  8. ^ "Maryse Condé | Guadeloupian author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  9. ^ Lewis, B., & Condé, M. (1995). No Silence: An Interview with Maryse Condé. Callaloo, 18(3), 543-550. Retrieved from
  10. ^ a b c Author Profile: Maryse Condé. (2004). World Literature Today,78(3/4), 27-27. Retrieved from
  11. ^ Condé, Maryse (February 6, 2019). "Giving Voice to Guadeloupe". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Lionnet, F. (1989). Happiness Deferred: Maryse Condé’s Heremakhonon and the Failure of Enunciation. In Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (pp. 167-190). Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press. Retrieved from
  13. ^ Alvina Ruprecht, "An Interview with Maryse Condé" (abstract), International Journal of Francophone Studies, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (January 1999).
  14. ^ Condé, Maryse (February 6, 2019). "Giving Voice to Guadeloupe". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  15. ^ "Giving Voice to Gaudeloupe". Retrieved September 11, 2018.

External links[edit]