The masterful novelist from Guadeloupe who has written at least 17 novels, 5 plays, numerous collections of essays and taught literature at Columbia University, gave this interview June, 2002, in New York City. She speaks of her childhood, her passion for honesty, her compassion for women, her love of family and her respect for the craft of writing. She describes her experiences with racism in France and the US, and the controversy her books have caused. She ends the tape with a dramatic reading from her latest work, Le coeur à rire et à pleurer. (See an excerpt from the DVD below.)
DVD: Maryse Condé Speaks from the Heart
Details: Three different formats: English voiceover, French or French with Engllish subtitles
teacher’s guide; 50 minutes
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Excerpt: I have always thought that writing meant telling the truth in some way. To say what you think about people, about political problems, about social problems, about your own people, about others; also about yourself. So, finally, I think, and I learned this very early, that telling the truth does not always please everyone. There is a proverb that says, “All truths are not good to tell.” Well, when you try to tell the truth, to depict things and people as you see them, evidently you are led to shock, to displease. Ever since my first book, Hérémakhonon, I have had problems with the public about my writing in one way or another.
To know oneself is especially difficult for a French Caribbean person. First they told us, “You are children of Europe; you ought to imitate the Europeans, imitate the French especially,” in my case. We saw that this was absolutely false, impossible. And we saw that we belonged to a race whose origin was in Africa. Then we told ourselves, we are Africans. In the long run, one has to understand and accept that being oneself is a little bit different from all these precise images—French, African, French Caribbean—from all these categories that have been established in advance. An individual is in part a dream, in part a freedom to be, in part a way of accommodating at the same time to the things one expects, which are perhaps made up of tradition, and then a large part of innovation, of newness. But it is very hard work to arrive at knowing who one is.
Endorsements: “Seeing the videos on Maryse Condé and Raphaël Confiant helped to make the French Caribbean come alive for my students. The division of the Condé video into usefully labeled segments meant that I could easily weave them into my lectures. The students enjoyed visualizing this impressive author and greatly benefited from her thoughts on the variety of subjects discussed. For the Confiant video I showed the whole thing in one sitting and it was as if Confiant were there giving us a lecture. It was most useful in tying together the main threads of my course.” Dr. Bonnie Thomas, European Languages & Studies, The University of Western Australia
“I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed the video program “Maryse Condé Speaks from the Heart.” The conversation between you and Condé on camera was a beautiful duet between two intelligent women—one white and one black—with no trace of the cynicism of racial antipathy or disingenuousness that one often encounters in interviews with a multi-racial cast. As a U.S. American seeped in the discomforting quagmire of race in this country, I found that your presentation provided a view of normalcy around issues of race and class that are so sensitively explored in Condé’s work.” Felicia Furman, Film Producer, Founder of www.sharedhistory.org
“I liked this video because I like the sonority of Maryse Condé’s voice, but also because she articulated well certain key elements in the difficult process of becoming a writer. She insisted on the courage literary self-expression takes and on the importance of finding one’s unique voice and of gradually creating one’s identity. I like her openness to the stimuli of travel and world literature, to the fiction of Mishima as well as to that of Emily Brontë. In this video, we sense a curious, open, intelligent, generous human being giving us hints as to how she transforms those stimuli and ideas into fiction.” Robert H. McCormick, Jr., Professor of Literature and English Composition, Franklin College Switzerland, Lugano, Switzerland
“The conversation between you and Condé on camera was a beautiful duet between two intelligent women—one white and one black—with no trace of the cynicism of racial antipathy or disingenuousness that one often encounters in interviews with a multi-racial cast. As a U.S. American steeped in the discomforting quagmire of race in this country, I found that your presentation provided a view of normalcy around issues of race and class that are so sensitively explored in Condé’s work.”
Felicia Furman, Film Producer, Founder of http://www.sharedhistory.org