Bernard Magnier is one of the most brilliant specialists currently working on African literature. A journalist by profession, he has worked for several years with Radio France International and is the director of French publisher Acte Sud’s imprint « Afrique ». As one who is truly passionate about African literature, he is involved in several aspects of this part of the publishing world. He works as a literary advisorwith France's national book center, Georges Pompidou Center and the theater Le Tarmac at the Villette. He is also the programmer for the Mixed-Blood Literature festival in Angouleme.
Magnier has published a number of outstanding books, outlining the greatest literary moments of the African continent : L’Afrique noir en Poesie (Black Africa in Poetry) (Gallimard-Folio Junior, 1986) : La Parole nomade (The Nomadic Word) (Montreal, hurtubise HMH, 1995) ; an anthology of thirty-seven French-language poems ; Poésie d’Afrique au sud du Sahara (The Poetry of Sub-Saharan Africa) (UNESSCO/Actes Sud, 1995) an anthology featuring two hundred poets ; J’écris comme je vie (I Write as I Live) (La Presse du Vent, 2000), an interview with writer Dany Laferrière ; and La Poésie Africaine ( African Poetry) (Mango, 2005), an illustrated anthology for young readers.
1. Writing in French, Originating Elsewhere
The last four French-language writers to receive and accept the Nobel Prize in literature were writers born outside mainland France (Camus in Algeria, Saint-John Perse in Guadeloupe, Beckett in Ireland and Claude Simon in Madagascar). We can now add to the list Gao Xingjian, a Chinese writer who is a French national. In November 2006 France’s top literary prize, le Prix Goncourt, was awarded to the American writer Jonathan Littell. Le Prix Renaudot and le Prix Fémina, went to a novelist from the Congo, Alain Mabanckou, and Canadian novelist Nancy Huston, respectively.
So it is, and has been for a long time now (Marco Polo dictated his travel journal in French), that writers born outside of France have gone there to enrich French letters, from The Countess de Ségur to Guillaume Apollinaire, from Elsa Triolet to Cioran and Ionesco. Some have kept traces of their birthplace in their books (Camus, Duras). Others have chosen French after having written in another language (Milan Kunera, Hector Bianciotti, Agota Kristof, Jorge Semprum, etc. . . .). Today, writers originating in Africa, the Maghreb, the Caribbean and Indo-Oceania express themselves in turn in the language they inherited from history.
This talk intends to provide an inventory of these writers, to follow in their footsteps through the books they’ve written, and to show the pragmatic, loving, conflicting and passionate relationship these writers, who have « come from elsewhere, » have with the French language.
2. Twenty Years of Writing, Publishing and Reading African Literature
Since the awarding of the Nobel Prize in literature to the Nigerian Wole Soyinka, African literature has undergone considerable upheavals. Several factors have come into play affecting the writing (new themes, new issues at stake), the publication, and the reception among readers (coming from new authors, increase in number of female writers, increase in number of translations, new themes taken up, etc. . . .). In Africa as in Europe, in order to publish and promote these authors and their books, new structures have been put into place. As a result, readership has increased. A more important place is now accorded to these literatures.
Who are these new actors? Has the reception that awaits these works of literature changed? What is at stake with this new recognition?
3. Writing about exile, writing in exile
« There are more and more foreigners in the world. » This provocative statement is becoming more and more accurate in regards to the fate of a large number of writers throughout the world. To write far from one’s homeland, in exile or at a distance due to political, economic, or personal reasons produces a new situation which can sometimes influence the writing by enriching, shattering, or modifying it.
Certain writers never cease bringing up the departed land, a few portray their exile in a variety of forms (distance, wandering, discontent, nostalgia, idealization of the « lost country »), others avoid bringing the situation up directly. Some conjure up an exile that is an insurmountable heartache; others come to see it as an opportunity, a necessary and useful detachment offering greater freedom of expression, released, as they are, from contingencies and constraints. Certain writers continue work begun in the country of origin, others find in exile the subject of and motivation for their work and some even come to adopt the language of the new country as the language for their written expression. This talk intends to take up certain writers among these « figures of exile, » who represent various paths of creation from the library of the world.
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