French-speaking literature and literary prizes outside of France

When we think of French literature, the first names that spring to mind are those of the great metropolitan writers such as Proust or Balzac. But “la francophonie” is not limited to mainland France ; besides overseas territories and parts of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, French is widely spoken in North West Africa, where France used to be the colonial power. Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mauritania, Togo among others still have French as their official language, and l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie comprises 80 member states from all over the world. When speaking of French literature, one should not forget the contribution of writers from overseas, and that many a book written in French may in fact have been penned by an African author.

Examples of Haitian and Congolese prizewinners

Examples of Haitian and Congolese prizewinners

French-speaking countries and overseas territories’ contribution to French literature is not recent: XIXth century writer Alexandre Dumas was the son of a mixed-race former slave from Saint-Domingue ; in 1921 Batouala, written by René Maran, from Martinique, was the first novel penned by a Black person to be awarded the prestigious French literary prize Goncourt ; and the XXth century poet Saint-John Perse was born and spent his childhood in Guadeloupe. One important movement in French-speaking literature is “la Négritude”, founded in the 1930s by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire and Senegalese poet and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor. Contemporary writer and Nobel-prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio is Franco-Mauritian, and Haitian author Dany Laferrière has recently become a member of the Académie Française.

We have already discussed in previous blogposts our attempts to acquire books written in French from Haiti or Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the Library has been consistent in using famous French metropolitan literary prizes to guide its acquisitions, it has been less assiduous in its following of awards for overseas and foreign works written in French, partly because it is harder to find up-to-date information on the subject. Nevertheless, the Library holds copies of several such prizewinning books :

  • The Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie is a major prize awarded every year by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Belgian author Geneviève Damas won the 2012 prize for Si tu passes la rivière (C206.c.4239), Mauritian writer Amal Sewtohul the 2013 prize for Made in Mauritius (C202.d.9818) and Algerian author Kamel Daoud the 2014 prize for Meursault, contre-enquête (C203.d.5456).
  • The Prix Senghor du premier roman francophone et francophile created in 2006 awards young French-speaking writers all over the world. Haitian author Kettly Mars won the 2006 prize for L’Heure hybride (2007.8.7709), Congolese-born Wilfried N’Sondé the 2007 prize for Le Coeur des enfants-léopards (2010.7.996). Bruno Nassim Aboudrar and Algerian author Wahiba Khiari both won the 2010 prize respectively for Ici-bas (C201.d.8642) and Nos silences (C203.d.2733).
  • Le Prix Carbet is awarded to French-speaking authors from the Caribbean. It was won in 2013 by Haitian writer Lyonel Trouillot for his novel Parabole du failli (C208.c.3349) and in 2014 by Fabienne Kanor, from Martinique, for Faire l’aventure (C203.d.7243).

The Library is currently actively seeking to acquire other recent prizewinning books for the Prix des Cinq continents, the Prix Senghor and the Prix Carbet, as well as for the Moroccan Prize Grand Atlas. In the future, we will also commit ourselves to follow these prizes every year, as we already do for French metropolitan literary awards.

Anne-Laure Lacour, French intern at Cambridge University Library

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