Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé (née Boucolon; February 11, 1937) is a French (Guadeloupean) novelist, critic, and playwright. Condé is best known for her novel Ségou (1984–1985).[3]

Maryse Condé
Maryse Condé in 2008
BornMaryse Boucolon
(1937-02-11) 11 February 1937
Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe
EducationLycée Fénelon , Sorbonne Nouvelle
Alma materUniversity of Paris
Notable worksSégou (1984)
Notable awardsGrand prix littéraire de la Femme (1986), Prix de L’Académie francaise (1988), Prix Carbet de la Carraibe (1997) and the New Academy Prize in Literature (2018)
SpouseMamadou Condé[1] Richard Philcox [2]

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, Grand prix littéraire de la Femme (1986),[4] Prix de L’Académie francaise (1988),[4]Prix Carbet de la Carraibe (1997) [6]and the New Academy Prize in Literature (2018) for her works.[4]

Early Life

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 as "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's birth eleven years after Guy, made her the youngest of the eight children.[7] Condé was born while her mother was forty-three, and her father was sixty-three.[7] Condé's describes herself as "the spoiled child" which she attributes to her parents older age, and the age-gap between her and her siblings.[7]

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

After having graduated from high school, she attended Lycée Fénelon from 1953-1955. [7]Condé was expelled after 2 years of attendance. [7]Condé instead 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 1959, Condé attended a rehearsal of Les Négres/ The Blacks by Jean Genêt where she would meet the Guinean actor, Mamadou Condé.[7] In August of 1959 she married Mamadou Condé.[7] They eventually had four children together. By November of 1959 the couples relationship became estranged, 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 1960-1972 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 because "[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 her novel 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 such as the University of California, Berkeley; UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre. Condé has since retired fom teaching in 2005.[5]

Literary significance

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 The Tree of Life (1992). Her novels trace the relationships between African peoples and the diaspora, especially the Caribbean.[4]

Her first novel Hérémakhonon, was published in 1976.[5] The novel was so incredibly controversial that it was pulled from the shelves after six months for 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 2001's Tales From the Heart: True Stories From My Childhood and 2006's Victoire, 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. 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.[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]

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.[11]

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


For her works Conde's has been awarded :

  • Le Grand Prix Litteraire de la Femme (1986)
  • Le Prix de L’Académie Francaise (1988)
  • Le Prix Carbet de la Caraibe (1997) [4][6]
  • Margueritte Yourcenar Prize [6]
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from New York University's Africana studies program.[6]

In 2001, she was named a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.[6] In 2018, Condé became the first recipient of the New Academy Prize in Literature.[9]

Selected bibliography

  • 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. , JSTOR
  3. Condé, Maryse, and Richard Philcox. Tales from the Heart: True Stories from My Childhood. New York: Soho, 2001.
  4. Rebecca Wolff, Interview: "Maryse Condé" Archived November 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 68, Summer 1999, accessed 27 April 2016.
  5. "Maryse Condé | Columbia | French". Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  6. Author Profile: Maryse Condé. (2004). World Literature Today,78(3/4), 27-27. Retrieved from
  7. Clark, VèVè A.; Daheny, Cecile; Clark, VeVe A. (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. Condé, Maryse (February 6, 2019). "Giving Voice to Guadeloupe". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  10. 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
  11. Alvina Ruprecht, "An Interview with Maryse Condé" (abstract), International Journal of Francophone Studies, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (January 1999).
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