Maryse Condé is a novelist and scholar who divides her time between New York City and her native Guadeloupe. She is Professor Emerita of French at Columbia University, and has also taught at UCLA, the Sorbonne, and Berkeley. Among her numerous books are the novels Windward Heights (1998) and Victoire: My Mother’s Mother (2010), and the memoir What Is Africa to Me?: Fragments of a True-to-Life Autobiography (2016). (February 2019)

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Giving Voice to Guadeloupe

Maryse Condé with the French edition of her novel Ségou (Segu), Guadeloupe, 1986

The law of 1946, known as the law of assimilation, initiated by the poet Aimé Césaire, transformed the island from a colony into a French Overseas Département, or “DOM.” The inhabitants of Guadeloupe have been deprived of their national identity and become domiens. I, too, am a domienne. They said we didn’t have a language. Creole, a language invented in the plantation system as a challenge to the white planters, was a dialect long forbidden at school; it took a group of brave intellectuals for a diploma of Creole Studies to gain recognition. They said we weren’t creative. We are either the descendants of African slaves or the descendants of indentured Indian laborers or the descendants of the French colonizers. Nobody believed that these three components could have fused to create an original culture.