March 2013: International Month of the Francophonie

March 19, 2013 | By Rachael Small

This year, the International Month of the Francophonie commemorates a special milestone with the 100th birthday of poet and playwright Aimé Césaire. Many of the events and festivals that have been planned in cities across the globe this month include celebrations, not only of Césaire’s work, but of his literary heritage and the many writers he has influenced. To join in this celebration of the diversity of cultures, countries and traditions united by the French language, we at the book department would like to highlight a few of the many ways Francophone writers continue to be engaged in American literary life. 

Young writers who entered the 2013 French Heritage-Aimé Césaire writing contest have been given the honor of having their work considered by pre-eminent author Maryse Condé.  Condé has won a number of literary awards for her books, which explore issues within the African Diaspora and often engage what she refers to as “cultural cannibalism,” retelling stories from the pages of history and classic novels with Creole characters and from different points of view. An excerpt from her recent memoir, Ma vie sans fards (My Life Unvarnished) can be found in Fiction France No. 11.

Our bookstores and awards lists continue to be graced with a wealth of titles that speak to the breadth of literature being published in French and to the cultural diversity of the francophone landscape. Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi, founder and editor of the avant-garde literary journal Souffles (1966-1972), continues to gain an English-speaking readership with the recent publication of his memoir, The Bottom of the Jar.  This book, as well as Laâbi’s 1976 poetry collection The Rule of Barbarism, was beautifully translated by poet and literary critic André Naffis-Sahely.

Djiboutian literary star Abdourahman Waberi will conduct a salon on March 21 as part of the Francophonie 2013 Cultural Festival in Washington DC.  Waberi constantly plays with voice in his work, inventing characters whose distinct regional dialects reflect cultures both real and imagined.  A number of his books are available in translation, including In the United States of Africa, in which he satirizes national power dynamics by inverting the current world order, and Transit, which has been longlisted for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award. Other Francophone works in contention for the BTBA include Lebanese author Dominique Eddé’s Kite, and With the Animals by Swiss author Noëlle Revaz, which is also a finalist for the French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation’s Translation Prize.

Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou’s Black Bazaar was longlisted for the UK’s 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and his most recent novel in translation, Blue White Red, came out in January. We can look forward to a number of new translations hitting the shelves throughout the year, including the novel Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andreï Makine, who writes in French despite the fact that he was raised in the USSR.

Of course this is just a small sampling of the wealth of ways the Francophonie is currently being represented in the US and abroad. We are excited to continue sharing new Francophone works in the New Titles section of our website as they are released.  A number of panels on Créolitude are being planned in New Orleans and Miami for the upcoming spring and fall, so keep checking our Events section for announcements.

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