Mbougar Sarr, Diop, Gurna… The end of the literary price glass ceiling? – Young Africa

From the Nobel to the Goncourt via the Booker Prize, African writers have taken an important step forward in 2021. The foundations must now be laid for a genuine continental cultural policy.

We all know it: our literature, like our economy, is extroverted. This is why we should rejoice at this unexpected literary harvest, which our continent has just harvested.

Let us first celebrate, the author of Conjugal parliament, the Mozambican Paulina Chiziane, winner of the Camões international prize.

This distinction stands out for three reasons. First, the literary status of Mozambique within the continent: except Mia Couto, few of its writers have managed to cross the French-speaking border. Then, the symbol represented by the winner: it is the first time in the Portuguese-speaking world that a woman has received this prize awarded by the foundation of the National Library of Portugal and the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. Finally, the status of the writer who, like the Cape Verdean Cesaria Evora, comes from what Pierre Michon calls “a tiny life”. Paulina Chiziane is not Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie nor Leonora Miano. But her coronation crowns the meteoric rise of African novelists during this decade. This is the opportunity to regret the sudden disappearance of a lighthouse, Yvonne Vera.

Tchicaya U Tam Si would have deserved the Nobel just like Ahmadou Kourouma or Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Literary anomaly

The Nobel was awarded to Tanzanian Abdulrazack Gurna. If the five African winners of this literary grail are Arabic-speaking – the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz – or English-speaking – the South Africans John Maxwell Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, the Nigerian Wole Soyinka, and Gurna – French-speaking Africa has not been unworthy . The poetry of Tchicaya U Tam’si, unfortunate finalist in 1986 against Soyinka, would have deserved the Nobel just like the fictional work of Ahmadou Kourouma or Amadou Hampâté Bâ. And I do not even mention here Martiniquais Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant. This literary anomaly, which I hope can be corrected one day, invites introspection.

Fortunately, Boris Boubacar Diop, author of a beautiful metallic novel, Murambi, hailed in his time by Toni Morisson, has just been awarded the prestigious Neustadt prize. A year earlier, his compatriot and namesake David Diop won the International Booker Prize for Soul brother. This year, the Booker Prize went to South African Damon Galgut for The promise, a novel about the passage of time, which depicts the break-up of a white family in post-apartheid South Africa.

Boubacar Boris Diop, in 2011. © Ulf Andersen / Aurimages

An Achebe or Senghor award

Of course, the literary event in the French-speaking world remains the attribution of the Goncourt Prize to Mohamed Mbougar Sarr. And it was about time. During this decade, many African writers received the Renaudot Prize (Kourouma, Alain Mabanckou, Tierno Monénembo, Scholastique Mukasonga) and the Goncourt des Lycéens (Leonora Miano, Ahmadou Kourouma, David Diop, Djaïli Amadou Amal) but have always been unhappy finalists at Goncourt. Mbougar Sarr has just broken this glass ceiling. A step has therefore been taken in the reception of French-speaking African literature in France.

It remains to work on the continent to curb our extraversion. All who have read and reviewed The Most Secret Memory of Men failed to report that the novel is co-edited by Jimsaan in Senegal. This detail calls out. It perhaps foreshadows the future of literary life on the continent. For that, it will be necessary to lay the bases of a true continental cultural policy… It will perhaps also be the occasion to create a great continental literary price which crowns a work, a course. A prize, which will bear the name of Achebe, Senghor or Gordimer.

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Mbougar Sarr, Diop, Gurna… The end of the literary price glass ceiling? – Young Africa