The French collections at Cambridge University Library aim to capture a broad range of Francophone literature. Though quite a few Francophone writers have contracts with French publishing houses, we also buy publications from North Africa, the Caribbean, and Québec (readers’ recommendations for Cambridge University library, especially for Francophone material, are always welcome).
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.
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. Continue reading
Purchasing books from outside of France can sometimes present unique challenges. The publishing industry in France is large and relatively easily monitored; the same cannot always be said for the industry in other French-speaking countries, such as in Haiti and in French-speaking Africa south of the Sahara. We recently discussed issues relating to purchasing books from Haiti, and some of those issues are relevant for the latter area, and it is on recent purchases from this area that this post will focus.
A selection of recent purchases from this region includes :
- Tradition beti et la pratique de ses rites / Engelbert Fouda Etoundi.
Yaounde : Éditions Sopecam, 2012
- Rupture et transversalité de la littérature camerounaise / Marcelline Nnomo, Nol Alembong, Faustin Mvogo (eds).
Yaounde : Éditions CLÉ, 2010
- Prisonnier en Côte d’Ivoire : j’ai vécu l’enfer de la Maca : témoignage / Assalé Tiémoko.
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire : Le Réveil, 2009
- Parole-vertige : essai sur les proverbes moundang (Cameroun-Tchad) / Clément Dili Palaï ; préface de Gabriel Kuitché Fonkou.
Yaoundé : Éditions CLÉ, 2010
- Origines de l’Église évangélique du Cameroun : missions européennes et christianisme autochtone / par Jaap van Slageren.
Yaoundé : Éditions CLÉ, 2009
- Guerre du Liberia : ce que j’ai entendu / Alphonse Voho Sahi ; [préface de Michel Galy].
Abidjan : PUCI, Presses des universités de Côte d’Ivoire, 2009
- Contre l’oubli et le mépris : hommage aux tirailleurs : anthologie de poésie.
Dakar : Éditions Maguilen, 2009
- Art contemporain bantu : deuxième biennale du CICIBA, Kinshasa, juillet 1987 / texte de Badi-Banga Né Mwine.
Libreville, Gabon :Centre international des civilisations bantu, 1987
- Anthologie de poésie sénégalaise.
Dakar : Éditions Maguilen ; Milano : Edizioni dell’Arco, 2002
The collections of the University Library contain a comprehensive selection of works by major French writers, with a special emphasis on authors currently taught or researched at the University of Cambridge. The geographical coverage of the collections is particularly wide, including not only France, but areas that are or have been under French influence, such as French overseas territories and former French colonies. The Library actively continues to acquire works which are significant in the contemporary Francophone world.
The vast majority of the books in French that we purchase are published in France itself. The French publishing industry is active and prolific– we buy books from France on a broad variety of subjects. However, we do not confine our book purchasing to France. In addition, we actively seek out books from other countries where books are published in French. In a sequence of blog posts we will try to give an idea of the Library’s collecting activity from French sub-Saharan Africa, French-speaking Canada, Réunion and Mauritius, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Acquisition from some of these areas is very straightforward, but from others it is rather problematic. Countries may publish extensively in French, but distribution networks are very poor, even in the 21st century. It is difficult to find out what is being published, and even harder in some cases to acquire the material.