As expected, there was no shortage of it. As soon as the results of the literary grand prix for this new school year were known, a reaction gradually manifested itself in the form of a rumor that was not too benevolent and rather insinuating: this year, voluntarily or not, “they” agreed to crown blacks in order to satisfy the zeitgeist, political correctness, the concern for parity, whatever else. So many “alibis”! Less an explicit accusation than insistent sarcasm. As if “they” had united to cry out with one voice: in literature too, Black Lives Matter! – whereas, we cannot repeat it enough, only the work counts.
Let us sweep aside the absurd idea according to which jurors from different countries have concerted, secretly of course, to act with the same impetus: conspiracy has limits even if it often defies those of the imagination. There remains a finding already qualified as historic because we do not know that such a coincidence has already occurred in literary history: in 2021, for the first time in Europe, the juries of several major literary prizes among the most prestigious in the world have indeed crowned, a few weeks apart, African authors (including a white).
An openness to African imaginations
The Nobel goes to Abdulrazak Gurnah, Tanzanian expatriate for forty years in the United Kingdom, on the side of the University of Kent, where he taught for a long time; le Goncourt to Senegalese Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, who lives in Beauvais (Oise), for his novel The Most Secret Memory of Men ; the Booker Prize to South African Damon Galgut for The Promise ; the International Booker Prize to Senegalese David Diop for the English version of Soul brother ; the Camões Prize, the most important literary distinction in the Portuguese-speaking world, awarded unanimously to the Mozambican Paulina Chiziane, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature to the Senegalese Boubacar Boris Diop, awarded in both cases for their work as a whole.
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What a harvest! It is still a little early to detect a generation effect, the manifestation of a succession or the confirmation of a golden age. Nevertheless: there is every reason to be delighted because it finally testifies on the part of the juries of the Old Continent of an openness to African imaginaries in all their variety and a recognition of what this literature has of. universal. The phenomenon is all the more interesting because, although these novelists write for the most part in English or French, some were first published by local publishers before being spotted by European colleagues. The case in particular of Mohamed Mbougar Sarr whose book was first published by Jimsaan editions, in Saint-Louis, Senegal, before being co-published in Paris with the house of Philippe Rey; the same in 2013, Meursault counter-investigation by Kamel Daoud had first appeared in Barzakh editions, in Hydra, on the heights of Algiers, before being published in Arles by Actes Sud.
“An incredible reservoir of talent and writers”
On the day of the proclamation of the Goncourt Prize, during lunch at Drouant’s, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr stood up to thank the jury for “the important signal” sent by means of this award to writers from sub-Saharan Africa: “You do not measure it not yet, but it will have an extremely strong impact, because there is an incredible reservoir of talents and writers on this continent who ask only to be better known and who also do the honor and the history of French literature”. And to recall that, in fifty years, the vast majority of French speakers will live in Africa. “I have a dream”, confided Martin Luther King in a speech that has gone down in history. The author of The Most Secret Memory of Men also had a dream: that we no longer consider as exceptional and remarkable that the novel of an African writer is distinguished from a great French literary prize, “as a favor granted like that to minorities”, but as something normal thing.
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Let us hope that the shock wave of the exceptional African harvest of 2021 will push those responsible for book fairs and literary festivals in France to no longer confine these writers in the ghetto of French-speaking literature by making them debate among themselves, to finally consider them for what they are: French-language novelists. The only quality that matters if we are willing to admit that a writer has no other homeland than his language.
Diary of a Liberal
Diary of a Liberal
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Literary awards: the beautiful harvest of African authors, by Pierre Assouline