Recently, the Caribbean Prix Carbet was awarded to Alain Plénel, a former official of the Department of Education in Martinique, who is well known for his humanistic and anti-colonial ideas. Édouard Glissant, chair of the selection committee, explained that this year they would bestow the award, not on a book or a work of art but to a whole lifetime of work, “possibly to the work of the spirit.”
Although many have applauded the committee’s original decision, which many see as proof of a will to evolve and embrace change, Glissant is now facing the repercussions of this novel (no pun intended) move. One example is a letter that Alfred Marie-Jeanne, President of the Regional Council of Martinique, addressed to the writer expressing his “complete disagreement.” In the letter, he expresses his distaste that a literary prize has gone to a “man of politics,” a non-writer. Marie-Jeanne ends his letter underlining that “We must change course, but not denature [the award].
Writer Raphaël Confiant, winner of the Prix Carbet 1994 for his novel L’Allée des Soupirs, has also published an article (La Tribune des Antilles, 25 December 2009) stating that although we must not be narrowly trapped in the world of literature, we must “save the book.” While he accepts the singular life and worthiness of Alain Plénel’s life and work, he stresses that he “never wrote a line in his life.” Underlining that although he disagrees with Glissant on just about everything but holds him in high esteem, and that he respects jury’s eminent Caribbean scholars and writers—such as Michael Dash (Trinidad), Nancy Morejón (Cuba), and Maximilien Laroche (Haiti)—he fears that this move threatens the future, not of literature, but rather “the book.” He feels that the only acceptable evolution would be to grant the prize, not solely to a work of literature, but rather to a Caribbean book of quality in any field, be it a work on geography, anthropology, history, or other.
Today, La Tribune des Antilles published Marie-Jeanne’s letter with an article by L.B. stating that, in spite of the fact that “no one can question the humanism and the sagacious spirit of Alain Plénel” and that everyone recognizes that “his determination and courage against the colonial state” in the 1950s went “beyond the mere symbol,” it was not necessary to render tribute to him with a literary prize. The article says that although it is accepted that “the poetic valor of his actions as well as the political” deserves to be honored by Martinique as a whole, the Caribbean Prix Carbet was originally intended to “reward and promote a work of literary reflection or fiction.” L.B. goes on to ask: “Is it conceivable that the Prix Goncourt could be awarded to Mother Teresa . . . instead of a literary work? What would Édouard Glissant think if his Renaudot Prize of 1958 had been awarded to . . . Fidel Castro, who during the same year was ridding the Cuban people of dictator Batista?” [Why Fidel gets dragged into every argument, I will never understand.] The many exclamation marks peppering the end of the article convey that Glissant and the Prix Carbet jury took a step that, although courageous, is perhaps deemed too postmodern for some.
For letter and full articles (in French), see http://www.latribunedesantilles.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1861&Itemid=1 and http://www.latribunedesantilles.net/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1