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Chamoiseau, Patrick

Chamoiseau, Patrick

March 12, 1953


Born in Fort-de-France, Martinique, Patrick Chamoiseau has become one of the island's most successful and celebrated authors and a leading figure in contemporary postcolonial and world literature. After studying law at universities in Martinique and Paris, he became a social worker. Since returning to live in Fort-de-France, he has continued his vocation as a probation officer working with young offenders. This proximity to Martinican society and culture has influenced his work.

Although he is principally known for his novels, Chamoiseau has ranged broadly into other genres. He has written autobiographical narratives, assembled a collection of folktales, and been at the forefront of the theoretical debates surrounding créolité, or creoleness. He has also written for the theater, contributed to discussions on contemporary Martinican and Caribbean politics, and collaborated on several photographic essays. A testament to his importance and appeal as a writer and commentator is the portion of his work, both fiction and nonfiction, that has been translated into other languages.

Chamoiseau began to draw serious attention as a novelist after the publication of his first two novels, Chronique des sept misères (Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows, 1986), and Solibo magnifique (Solibo Magnificent, 1988). His third novel, and perhaps the most successful to date, is Texaco (1992), for which he garnered France's most important and prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. After the English translation of Texaco appeared in 1997, critical acclaim for his work began to take on new dimensions and his international stature as a writer grew. Other awards include the 1993 Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe for his novel Antan d'enfance (Childhood ), and in 2002 he was the recipient of the Prix Spécial du Jury RFO for his novel Biblique des derniers gestes (2002).

Chamoiseau's fictional trademark is his integration of French Creole into his French prose, thereby emphatically affirming the socio-cultural importance of the Creole language and its connection to an authentic Martinican identity. It is this focus on language and orality that is also central to his theoretical work and the idea that it is not French, but rather Creole, that is the authentic linguistic representation of Martinique.

The subject and style of his fiction have closely mirrored the political and theoretical interventions of his essays. His most important, and likely most controversial, was the 1989 Éloge de la créolité (In Praise of Creoleness ), a collaboration width writer Raphaël Confiant and linguist Jean Bernabé, which signaled the official launch of the créolité movement. In this seminal essay (in reality a manifesto), the authors argued that their identity was emphatically Creole; it was not singularly European, African, or Asian. This was important because it was a direct challenge to the Négritude movement founded in part by the Martinican writer and politician Aimé Césaire. The essay is, therefore, a move away from the black-white binary of Négritude, suggesting instead that politics, like literature, must reflect the complexities of multiracial histories and realities in places like Martinique and the wider Caribbean. This theory, with all of its political and cultural implications for contemporary Martinique, continues to be fiercely debated.

Nevertheless, Chamoiseau continues to be one of the most important and creatively provocative voices in Caribbean and world literature.

See also Creole Languages of the Americas; Literature of Martinique and Guadeloupe; Négritude

Bibliography

Bernabe, Jean, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant. Éloge de la créolité. Paris: Gallimard, 1989.

Bongie, Chris. Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post-Colonial Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Île en Île. "Patrick Chamoiseau." Available from <http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ile.en.ile/paroles/chamoiseau.html>.

Watts, Richard. "'Toutes ces eaux!': Ecology and Empire in Patrick Chamoiseau's Biblique des derniers gestes." Modern Language Notes 118 (2003): 895910.

thorald m. burnham (2005)

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