The Word

Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé was born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-á-Pitre, Guadeloupe, on February 11, 1937.  In 1953, her parents sent her to study at Lycée Fénelon and Sorbonne in Paris, where she majored in English. In 1959, she married Mamadou Condé, a Guinean actor.  After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana, and Senegal.

She is the author of numerous novels, including Heremakhonon, Segu, Crossing the Mangrove, Tales from the Heart, Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?, and The Story of the Cannibal Woman.

In 1981, she divorced and married Richard Philcox in 1982.  Philox is the English language translator of most of Maryse’s novels. In addition to her writings, Condé had a distinguished academic career. In 2004 she retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She had previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre.

Condé in the 1992 video (below), speaks of her childhood, her passion for honesty, her compassion for women, her love of family and her respect for the craft of writing. She describes her experiences with racism in France and the US, and the controversy her books have caused.

A prolific writer of novels, short stories, plays, and criticism, Condé is celebrated as a talented and perceptive author. Many critics have lauded her knowledge of African history, while others have focused their praise on her struggle to create an independent identity for the Afro-Caribbean woman. Other reviewers have commended her lyricism, biting wit, and sharp commentary on racial and gender inequality, the tragic legacies of the African diaspora, and the challenges of multicultural relationships. Some reviewers, however, have found Condé’s plots convoluted and overburdened by details and characters. Recent critics have discussed her work within the context of the West African griot (or storyteller) tradition as well as within contemporary European literature. They have commended her valuable contribution to the Afro-Caribbean literary tradition and regard Condé as a major author of her time.

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