Due to its connections with colonialism, francophone writing, or literature written in French, has a complex genealogy and relationship to language. It is important to note here that French-led colonization preceded the colonization of Africa, in the French Caribbean/French Antilles. After the Berlin conference in 1885, in which European nations divided the continent of Africa among themselves without one single African present, France colonized many countries around the world, while Belgium colonized the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. This colonial history is why global French literature exists. Places of origin include: Canada; Europe (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Monaco, and Switzerland); Sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, and Togo); North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia); Asia (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam); and the Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, French Guiana, and Reunion). In addition, there are the Seychelles and Vanuatu, the territory of Puducherry, and Lebanon. Due to these vast geographic and cultural differences, a myriad of complex issues and ramifications must be taken in consideration when addressing francophone literature. From the colonial period onward, writing by French Europeans has been classified as “French writing,” while “francophone writing” has been used to denote everyone else. This enforces the clear division of us and them, colonizers and colonized. Before the term “francophone” was coined, writing produced by colonized nations was labeled as “colonial writing in the French language.” It was never included within or identified as French literature. With the advent of postcolonial studies, however, “francophone” has come to be assigned more specifically to writers from the former colonized nations of the French and Belgium empires who continue to write in the French language.
The body of texts written in French by people from beyond the Hexagon or France as the center of French language is significant within world literature. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, African and Caribbean poets and intellectuals associated with the Negritude movement used the French language to denounce their dehumanization by colonialism. Colonized subjects claimed their right to write in standard French but with their own cultural specificities. As early as 1921, Maran won the Prix Goncourt, with many others following close behind. The novels highlighted here were some of the earliest to win prestigious literary awards from Belgium and France, such as Kourouma’s novels (Kourouma 1968, Kourouma 2000) from Cote d’Ivoire, and Chamoiseau 1992 from Martinique. These authors used their local and cultural contexts to fundamentally change our understanding of French literature. As for the 21st century, immigration and a rising call to decolonialize knowledge have impacted the notion of francophone letters. Through this process, francophone writing has come to encapsulate a diversity of voices. For example, Samuel Beckett produced texts in both French and English, as did Milan Kundera from the Czech Republic. The term continues to suggest African, Asian, and Caribbean writers more readily, as well as Afropean writers living in Europe today, and writers from the Diaspora. With the term now so capacious, does it not make sense to define all writing produced in French as francophone?
Chamoiseau, Patrick. Texaco. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1992.
The aging daughter of an enslaved man in Martinique becomes the chief spokeswoman for and founder of Texaco, a shantytown on the verge of disappearance due to creeping urban development. As the city and urban planner confront the spokeswoman, the effects of slavery on Martinician consciousness, and the possibility of women’s agency to liberate a people and their land materialize. The author uses colonialism to interpret the dawn of neocolonialism and tension between community and individual identity.
Diop, Bigaro. Les nouveaux contes d’Amadou Koumba. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1958.
For the first time, oral literature is into written words. These tales demonstrate art with its roots in the Senegalese language Wolof.
Irele, Francis. “Francophone African philosophy.” In Philosophy from Africa: A Text with Readings. 2d ed. Edited by P. H. Coetzee and A. P. J. Roux, 112–119. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 2002.
This text presents a critical discussion of francophone African philosophy, its history, the influences, and emerging trends. From the 1920s it is possible to discuss discourses on racialism, as well as the emergence of the Negritude movement in francophone African intellectual history. This history includes important philosophical traditions in anglophone, francophone, and lusophone Africa with roots in colonization.
Kennedy, Ellen Conroy. The Négritude Poets: An Anthology of Translations from the French. New York: Viking Press, 1975.
Four generations of Black French-colonial poets from Africa, the Caribbean and Oceania write about their experience of colonialism and racism.
Kourouma, Ahmadou. Les Soleils des Independences. Holmes & Meier Publishers, Incorporated, 1968.
Translated as “the suns of independence,” this novel contextualizes the modernization of Africa through the perspective of Malinke culture. The main character inherits a position within the traditional customs of his people but faces challenges as his royalty is discounted while he’s living poorly in the inner city with his wife, who struggles to become pregnant. Through anxieties about inheritance, the imagined future of Senegal, Mali, and Ivory Coast come into sharp focus. The author emphasizes the importance of production and reproduction within and beyond fertility and industrial labor to represent loss of culture, religion, and tradition’s effect on young African families.
Kourouma, Ahmadou. Allah n’est pas obligé. New York: Anchor Books, 2000.
In “Allah is not obliged,” a young boy’s mother dies, and he leaves his native village in the Ivory Coast, accompanied by a sorcerer and cook, to search for his aunt. Crossing the border into Liberia, they are seized and forced into military service during the civil war. The author’s use of immigration and conscription into civil war service complicates narratives of interpersonal, collective, and national violence. This book won the Prix Renaudot (2000) and Prix Goncourt (2000).
Maran, René. Batouala. Paris: Albin Michel, 1921.
Maran was the first black Caribbean writer to win the renowned French literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. This novel, which is situated in the Central African Republic, is an early work of resistance against colonial rule. Maran spent many years of his early childhood in Africa and saw how Africans were treated by their colonized masters.
Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française. Paris: PUF, 1948.
From 1960 to 1981, Senghor was the president of the Republic of Senegal. Cofounder of the Negritude movement, he is also a fine poet. In his work, he laments the past and the alienation associated with European culture.
Walker, Keith Louis. Countermodernism and Francophone Literary Culture: The Game of Slipknot. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
Concentrating on six authors from French-speaking spaces, the author shows the complexities of their colonial history and their unique relationship to the French language. In so doing the author illuminates counterdiscourses that show different literary traditions from local spaces.
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