University of Rochester

Acclaimed Novelist Maryse Condé Speaks on Distortion of Memory

November 2, 2007

As part of the Humanities Project's series on "Reimagining the Americas," internationally acclaimed novelist, playwright, and critic Maryse Condé will speak at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, in the Gowen Room of Wilson Commons on the University of Rochester's River Campus. The talk by Condé, professor emerita in the Department of French and Romance Philology at Columbia University, is free and open to the public.

She will discuss erased memory or "memoiré ratureé," a concept coined by the Martinican philosopher Edouard Glissant to express the damage wrought by colonization on the minds of the Caribbean people. Condé will speak about memory of the history of the Caribbean people, which has been replaced by the colonizer's own history. The Caribbean people have been inoculated with self-hatred, an inferiority complex, and a pervasive feeling of guilt, she says.

Condé was born in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, a small French/Creole-speaking Caribbean island. In 1953, she was sent by her parents to Paris to be educated at Lycée Fénéleon and the Sorbonne, where she majored in English. Later, she went on to teach in Africa, at the Ghana Institute of Language in Accra, and then Lycée Charles de Gaulle in Saint Louis, Senegal. During this period, she was forced to move from country to country, escaping the arrests of dissents. She attributes this restlessness to her creative development, stating that that too much familiarity with a place does not allow an author to write about it more truthfully but only to mystify it.

In the 1970s, she began writing plays that were performed in Paris and the West Indies, and her first novel, Hérémakhonon, about a young black West Indian woman who is educated in Paris and searches for her roots in Africa.

Since 1986, Condé has divided her time between Guadeloupe and the United States, and has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland, Harvard University, and the University of Columbia.

Condé was the first woman to receive the Puterbaugh Award, which recognizes French language literature in the United States, for her body of work. She also is the recipient of the Prix Marguerite Yourcenar, the Prix Tropiques, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (fiction), and other awards. She was designated Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French government.

"Reimagining the Americas: Cultures, Identities, Formations and Transformations" is one of nine projects funded this year by the Humanities Project, an initiative by the University of Rochester emphasizing the influence and contributions of the humanities to academic and civil life.

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