Authors: Patrick Chamoiseau

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Martinican novelist, short-story writer, and literary theorist

Identity: African descent

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Chronique des sept misères, 1986 (Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows, 1999)

Solibo magnifique, 1988 (Solibo Magnificent, 1998)

Texaco, 1992 (English translation, 1997)

L’Esclave vieil homme et le molosse, 1997

Biblique des derniers gestes, 2002

Short Fiction:

Elmire des sept bonheurs: Confidences d’un vieux travailleur de la distillerie Saint-Etienne, 1998 (Seven Dreams of Elmira: A Tale of Martinique, 1999)

Nonfiction:

Manman Dlo contre la fée Carabosse: Théâtre conté, 1982

Eloge de la créolité, 1989 (with Jean Bernabé and Raphaël Confiant)

Lettres créoles: Tracées antillaises et continentales de la littérature–Haïti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane, 1635-1975, 1991 (with Confiant)

Antan d’enfance, 1993 (Childhood, 1999)

Au temps de l’antan, 1994 (Creole Folktales, 1994; also known as Strange Words, 1998)

Chemin d’école, 1994 (School Days, 1997)

Ecrire la parole de nuit: La Nouvelle Littérature antillaise–nouvelles, poèmes, et réflexions poétiques, 1994 (with Confiant et al.)

Ecrire en pays dominé, 1997

Miscellaneous:

Martinique, 1988 (with photographs by Michel Renaudeau and Emmanuel Valentin)

Guyane: Traces-mémoires du bagne, 1994 (with photographs by Rodolphe Hammadi)

Emerveilles, 1998 (with paintings by Maure)

Biography

Patrick Chamoiseau (shah-mwah-zoh) has established himself as one of the most important novelists and critical theorists of the Caribbean. He was born the son of George Chamoiseau, a postal worker, and his wife, Emile, a cook, in Fort de France, capital of the island of Martinique in the French West Indies.{$I[A]Chamoiseau, Patrick}{$I[geo]MARTINIQUE;Chamoiseau, Patrick}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Chamoiseau, Patrick}{$I[tim]1953;Chamoiseau, Patrick}

Almost forty years later, Chamoiseau would describe the experiences of his childhood in his two memoirs, Childhood and School Days. Referring to himself as “le negrillon” (little black boy), he tells of his life at home, on streets filled with traders, shopkeepers and loiterers engaged in political discussions and in a school he found oppressive.

One of Chamoiseau’s most influential childhood experiences was the conflict between the official French, spoken at school, and the Creole used at his home, a mixed language incorporating elements of African languages spoken by slaves brought to the Caribbean island. For Chamoiseau, language becomes political. Creole brings with it the comfort of home. He views it as the linguistic expression of his mixed ethnic identity. French, on the other hand, is seen as the language of the authorities and the former colonial masters, whose culture is admired and copied by the upper classes of Martinique.

While Chamoiseau describes suffering at school, he nevertheless graduated with such good results that he was invited to study in France. At the age of twenty-two, he married his wife, Ghslaine, on December 19, 1975. The couple had one son, whom they named Yoam, to reflect their Creole heritage. Patrick and Ghslaine made their home on Martinique.

In France, Chamoiseau graduated from the Université de Scearx, where he trained as a lawyer. After returning to Martinique, he became a full-time probation officer. He works with youthful offenders, trying to reintegrate them into island society. Chamoiseau began writing in the early 1980’s, and his first two novels earned him a certain fame. He also ventured into literary criticism. In 1989, together with two friends, he attacked Martinique’s grand old man of letters, Aimé Césaire. In their radical work, Eloge de la créolité, the friends argued for a new definition of being Creole.

Chamoiseau’s 1992 novel, Texaco, finally brought him international fame. The hefty, politically and linguistically ambitious, historical tale earned him the most prestigious literary prize of France, the Prix Goncourt, that year. Turning to his memories, Chamoiseau published his two-volume autobiography. In 1993, he won the Prix Garbet de la Caraibe for the first volume, Childhood. Chamoiseau’s literary prizes led to translations of his works into English; his novels, memoirs, and short fiction became popular among English-speaking readers in the 1990’s. His literary criticism is closely linked to the work of critic Edouard Glissant, whose thoughts on postcolonial literature are widely studied in American universities.

Continuing to work in Martinique’s legal justice system, Chamoiseau dedicates most of his free time to his diverse writing. By 2003 he had branched out into Martinican folktales and had written to accompany photos and paintings by other artists. The intense intellectuality and linguistic wordplay, which seeks to create a new language out of existing French and colloquial Creole spoken on Martinique, has presented special challenges to his English translators. Some of Chamoiseau’s novels, and his literary criticism, await translation into English. Patrick Chamoiseau’s politics are controversial on Martinique, but his work always meets with immediate interest on his island and in the French-speaking world.

BibliographyBernstein, Richard. “History and Race Seasoned by Magic and Reality in an Epic of Martinique.” The New York Times 164 (March 31, 1997): B7. Sympathetic review of Texaco, hailed as brilliantly innovative. Relates the book to Caribbean history and praises the author for his originality of language and subject.Burton, Richard. Afro Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play in the Caribbean. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997. General theoretical background information on issues of Chamoiseau and other writers sharing his cultural and ethnic background. Useful overview places his work in a larger context. Includes bibliography and index.Farrell, Patrick. Review of School Days, by Patrick Chamoiseau. The New York Times Book Review, June 27, 1999, 20. Praises School Days for its mix of the supernatural and natural in the author’s vividly translated childhood memories.Kundera, Milan. “The Umbrella, the Night World, and the Lonely Moon.” The New York Review of Books, December 19, 1991, 46-50. Cogent analysis of Solibo Magnificent, written before the novel was translated into English. Nobel Prize winner Kundera praises Chamoiseau’s innovative language, which combines French and Creole to form an aesthetically pleasing new voice.Wiley, H. “Writing in a Dominated Country.” World Literature Today 72, no. 2 (1998): 441-442. Assesses the author’s work against the background of French colonizing of Martinique.
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