Maryse Condé

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Maryse Condé
Maryse Condé just after her talk at Montclair State University (New Jersey) on November 6, 2006
Maryse Condé just after her talk at Montclair State University (New Jersey) on November 6, 2006
BornMaryse Boucolon
(1937-02-11) February 11, 1937 (age 85)
Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, France
EducationLycée Fénelon , Sorbonne Nouvelle
Alma materSorbonne Nouvelle
Notable worksSégou (1984)
Notable awards
SpouseMamadou Condé[1]
Richard Philcox[2]

Maryse Condé (née Boucolon; February 11, 1937) is a French novelist, critic, and playwright from the French Overseas department and region of Guadeloupe. Condé is best known for her novel Ségou (1984–85).[3]

Her novels explore the African diaspora that resulted from slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean.[4] Her novels, written in French, have been translated into English, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.[5] She has won various awards, such as the Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme (1986),[4] Prix de l’Académie française (1988),[4] Prix Carbet de la Carraibe (1997)[6] and the New Academy Prize in Literature (2018) for her works.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, she was the youngest of eight children. In an interview entitled "I Have Made Peace With My Island", Maryse Condé recounts aspects of her early life.[7] Condé describes her parents as among the first black instructors in Guadeloupe. Condé's mother, Jeanne Quidal, directed her own school for girls. Condé's father, Auguste Boucolon-- previously an educator-- founded the small bank "Le Caisse Coopérative des prêts", which was later renamed "La Banque Antillaise."[7]

Condé's father, Auguste Boucolon, had two sons from his first marriage: Serge and Albert.[7] Condé's three sisters are named Ena, Jeanne and Gillette.[7] Her four brothers are named Auguste, Jean, René, and Guy.[7] Condé was born 11 years after Guy, making her the youngest of the eight children.[7] Condé was born while her mother was 43, and her father 63.[7] Condé describes herself as "the spoiled child", which she attributes to her parents older age, as well as the age-gap between her and her siblings.[7]

Condé began writing at an early age. Before she was 12 years old, she had written a one-act, one-person play.[7] The play was written as a gift for her mother's birthday.[7]

After having graduated from high school, she attended Lycée Fénelon from 1953 to 1955.[7] Condé was expelled after two years of attendance.[7] Condé furthered her studies at the Université de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle) in Paris.[7] During her attendance, she, along with other West Indians, established the Luis-Carlos Prestes club.[7]


In 1958, Condé attended a rehearsal of Les Nègres/The Blacks by Jean Genet, where she would meet the Guinean actor Mamadou Condé.[7] In August 1958, she married Mamadou Condé.[7] They eventually had four children together (before separating in 1969). By November 1959, the couple's relationship had already become strained, and Condé moved to the Ivory Coast, where she would teach for a year.[7]

During Condé's returns for the holidays, she became politically conscious through a group of Marxist friends.[7] Condé's Marxist friends would influence her to move to Ghana.[7]

Between the years 1960 and 1972, she taught in Guinea, Ghana (from where she was deported in the 1960s because of politics), and Senegal.[5]

In 1973, 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 Nouvelle in Paris in comparative literature, examining black stereotypes in Caribbean literature.[4][5]

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.

She did not publish her first novel, Hérémakhonon, until she was nearly 40, as "[she] didn't have confidence in [herself] and did not dare present [her] writing to the outside world."[8] However, Condé would not reach her current prominence as a contemporary Caribbean writer until the publication of her third novel, Ségou (1984).[5]

Following the success of Ségou, 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 in 1995.[4]

Condé has taught at various universities, including the University of California, Berkeley; UCLA, the Sorbonne, the University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre. She retired from teaching in 2005.[5]

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 Ségou (1984–1985); and the 20th-century building of the Panama Canal and its influence on increasing the West Indian middle class in Tree of Life (1987). Her novels trace the relationships between African peoples and the diaspora, especially the Caribbean.[4]

Her first novel, Hérémakhonon, was published in 1976.[5] It was so controversial that it was pulled from the shelves after six months because of its criticism over the success of African socialism.[9] 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.[10] 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".[10]

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."[4]

Condé's later writings have become increasingly autobiographical, such as Tales From the Heart: True Stories From My Childhood (1999) and Victoire (2006), a fictional biography of her maternal grandmother in which she explores themes of motherhood, femininity, race relations, and the family dynamic in the postcolonial Caribbean. Who Slashed Celanire's Throat (2000) shows traces of Condé's paternal great-grandmother.

However, her 1995 novel Windward Heights is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which she had first read at the age of 14. Condé 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.[4] 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."[4]

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

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Hérémakhonon (1976). Heremakhonon, trans. Richard Philcox (1982).
  • Une saison à Rihata (1981). A Season in Rihata, trans. Richard Philcox (1988).
  • Ségou : les murailles de terre (1984). Segu, trans. Barbara Bray (1987).
  • Ségou : la terre en miettes (1985). The Children of Segu, trans. Linda Coverdale (1989).
  • Moi, Tituba, sorcière… Noire de Salem (1986). I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem, trans. Richard Philcox (1992).
  • La Vie scélérate (1987). Tree of Life, trans. Victoria Reiter (1992).
  • Traversée de la mangrove (1989). Crossing the Mangrove, trans. Richard Philcox (1995).
  • Les Derniers rois mages (1992). The Last of the African Kings, trans. Richard Philcox (1997).
  • La Colonie du nouveau monde (1993).
  • La Migration des coeurs (1995). Windward Heights, trans. Richard Philcox (1998).
  • Desirada (1997). Desirada, trans. Richard Philcox (2000).
  • Célanire cou-coupé (2000). Who Slashed Celanire's Throat?, trans. Richard Philcox (2004).
  • La Belle créole (2001). The Belle Créole, trans. Nicole Simek (2020).
  • Historie de la femme cannibale (2003). The Story of the Cannibal Woman, trans. Richard Philcox (2007).
  • Les Belles ténébreuses (2008).
  • En attendant la montée des eaux (2010). Waiting for the Waters to Rise, trans. Richard Philcox (2021).
  • Le Fabuleux et triste destin d’Ivan et d’Ivana (2017). The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, trans. Richard Philcox (2020).


  • 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
  • Comme deux frères (2007). Like Two Brothers.


  • Entretiens avec Maryse Condé (1993). Conversations with Maryse Condé (1996). Interviews with Françoise Pfaff. English translation includes a new chapter based on a 1994 interview.
  • Le coeur à rire et à pleurer : souvenirs de mon enfance (1999). Tales From the Heart: True Stories From My Childhood, trans. Richard Philcox (2001).
  • Victoire, les saveurs et les mots (2006). Victoire: My Mother's Mother, trans. Richard Philcox (2006).
  • La Vie sans fards (2012). What Is Africa to Me? Fragments of a True-to-Life Autobiography, trans. Richard Philcox (2017).
  • The Journey of a Caribbean Writer (2013). Collection of essays, translated by Richard Philcox.
  • Mets et merveilles (2015). Of Morsels and Marvels, trans. Richard Philcox (2015).

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Maryse CONDE", Aflit, University of Western Australia/French.
  2. ^ "Author Profile: Maryse Condé", World Literature Today, Vol. 78, No. 3/4 (September–December 2004), p. 27, via JSTOR.
  3. ^ Condé, Maryse, and Richard Philcox. Tales from the Heart: True Stories from My Childhood. New York: Soho, 2001.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rebecca Wolff, Interview: "Maryse Condé" Archived November 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 68, Summer 1999. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Maryse Condé | Columbia | French". Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Author Profile: Maryse Condé". World Literature Today (September–December 2004), 78 (3/4), p. 27.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Clark, VèVè A.; Cecile Daheny (1989). ""I Have Made Peace With My Island": An Interview with Maryse Condé". Callaloo (38): 87–133. doi:10.2307/2931145. ISSN 0161-2492. JSTOR 2931145.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Condé, Maryse (February 6, 2019). "Giving Voice to Guadeloupe". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  10. ^ 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.

External links[edit]