An Interview with Maryse Condé

Marianela González recently interviewed the multiple award-winning writer Maryse Condé, honored guest at Casa de las Américas-sponsored Author’s Week, which renders tribute each year to a different Latin American writer. As Gónzález explains, “thus arrived in Cuba one of the vital voices of post-colonial Caribbean thought: a Guadeloupean who lived her first revolution when she first heard of Aimé Césaire and Franz Fanon… in France, after living sixteen years in her native island.” Her novel Moi Tituba, sorcière noire de Salem has now given birth this year to a sister: Yo, Tituba, la bruja negra de Salem, published by Fondo Editorial Casa de las Américas. Here are excerpts from González’s interview with a link to the full piece below:

During five days, we heard about her life and her ample intellectual production, in the voice of researchers and in her own: that memorable encounter of one hour that left me with few questions, because there were so many answers.

Narrative for children and adults, drama, critical works… What does Maryse Condé find in each of these forms?   —I work most of all on the novel, while it is true that sometimes I do theater or write books for children. The theatre, for example, motivates me because it brings me very close to the people. But if there is something I have learned is that for an author there is no difference between those creations: all of them express the same internal ‘I’ in a multiple and diverse way. Then, criticism makes the difference; but the author simply writes, uses words to create music or a sound and to tell a story.  This I also learned from Africa. Poetry, prose, song, as we were taught in the French way, do not necessarily have those divisions in their essence. The divisions are pure form. Everything comes from a single source: the word. We place them in a large oven to cook until we obtain a deeper notion of the human being.    

You say that a book must make “sense and sound;” you expect that, when we open one of your books, we find not only a story, but also “a voice” that speaks to us. Glissant also calls for this in his Le Discours antillais: [he wants] to be “heard,” more than to be “read.” How much does orality mark Caribbean literature, Caribbean cultural thought?   —To tell you the truth, much less than it could. Exemplified by my own case, I was raised by my parents, who did not believe in the Creole word. As a child, they read me stories of Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. They even prevented me from taking an interest in popular music.  So, obviously, Caribbean orality did not mark me as a writer. However, I have no doubt that it may be important for others: the life of a writer defines her creation; [the writer] is the subject of her work. 

[. . .] Do you think that thought about the Caribbean that occurs within the region is different from the one produced from outside [the region]?  —I think not so much nowadays. Caribbean thought in the region is increasingly more mixed with the one produced those living outside [the Caribbean] or even those who were born away from it. Finally, I believe that [. . .] there is no difference between the outside and the inside.  In all areas of Antillean reality, there is no immutable Caribbean.  We share with people everywhere. The past is important, but the future is more; and the future comes hand in hand with all that human communion.  

Your theory of “Caribbean literature” is very unique, you say that it cannot be defined… — I don’t think that there is a “literature of the Caribbean.”  There is literature from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti, Trinidad, Jamaica . . . each one is very different and says different things. It is wrong to speak of “Caribbean literature” as if those who were born in the archipelago were obliged to say the same things. No, we are different and we say different things.  I don’t even think that it makes sense to speak of “Caribbean identity.” There are multiple identities, unique identities. The same is true with Africa. Of whom do we speak? Senegal, Ghana. . . Each with a past, a different evolution. There is no “Africa,” but rather African countries.   [. . .]

Have you ever felt that French is not sufficient for you as a writer, to apprehend a “truth” about the Caribbean or about a human being who inhabits it? — French is seen as the language of colonization. In the Francophone Caribbean, people who write in French are [seen as] traitors and those who do so in Creole are seen as closest to the people. That is the underlying idea and I think that it is not fair. What happens in my case is that I was not educated in Creole, but rather in French. Perhaps I could have written in Creole and be what they want; but if I must express “the truth,” and the truth is that I write in French.  

“Black skin, white mask”… ¿is this possible? —I am an example of this, which has changed.  I do not like to criticize things, but rather try to understand them. I look [back] at the origins that is where the truths are.

[. . .] Looking back at those origins, how does Maryse Condé explain that Guadeloupe and Martinique are still departments of France in the 21st century?  —Because they are small countries that do not have much strength. We needed a leader to gain freedom, as you had Fidel Castro. It is necessary to have a group of people and a man or woman that will lead towards freedom. We did not have that. The Martinicans had a liberation—at least a cultural liberation—with Césaire; but in Guadeloupe, unfortunately, we did not have anyone. One studies in schools with French books, the press is French, cinema . . . all French. The fight is long. Martinique and Guadeloupe are not Cuba; they did not have a revolution. 

Do you feel that writers today feel a connection with the spirit of Césaire’s generation?  —I always say that my generation was more modest and I still have this feeling. For some countries, the time of colonization ended: for Cuba, for example; for Guadeloupe, no. But writing is like reaching a personal freedom. At least, while it lasts.

For full interview (in Spanish), see

For Maryse Condé’s speech (in Spanish), see

Photos of Maryse Condé at Casa de las Americas; in the last photo, she is flanked by Caribbeanist critics and writers Emilio Jorge Rodríguez and Nancy Morejón.

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