Nobel Laureate Novelist Maryse Condé Passes Away at 90


In the late hours of Monday evening, Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé, lauded for her deft and imaginative chronicling of both personal and historical narratives spanning places and times as vast as 17th century New England and modern Europe, breathed her last in a hospital in a small French town known as Apt, near Marseille. Condé, crowned with an alternative Nobel Prize in literature in 2018, was 90 years old at her demise.

Neurological complications had clouded her vision, requiring her to dictate her final opus, ‘The Gospel According to the New World’, recounted Laurant Laffont, her devoted editor of many years. Yet despite the cloudiness that crept in over her, Condé celebrated her 90th birthday, surrounded by loved ones, wearing joy on her face and a smile in her eyes. Laffont remembered her as a person of vast intensity, remarkable generosity and unfathomable depths, referring to her last birthday as an exquisite adieu to a life lived profoundly.

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The veteran writer, in her twilight years, resided in Luberon, France. Often hailed as the ‘grande dame’ of Caribbean literature, Condé’s work was powerfully influenced by fierce critics of colonialism such as Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire. She voyaged the world, crafting narratives that shed light on the discord between and within Western, African, and Caribbean cultures while teasing out complex nuances of liberation and what she referred to as ‘the trap of terrorism and simplistic radicalisation’.

Her daring oeuvre, often translated into English by her husband Richard Philcox, spans historical narratives such as the acclaimed ‘Segu’ to deeply personal narratives like ‘Tales from the Heart.’ Condé’s literature often reinterpreted Western classics, for instance, reimagining ‘Wuthering Heights’ as ‘Windward Heights’ and introducing a West Indian slave to Hester Prynne of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ in ‘I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.’

The later half of her substantial career was punctuated by several accolades, including the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, the distinguished U.S.-based Hurston & Wright Legacy Award and the New Academy Prize for literature, which in 2018 took the place of the Nobel Prize, side-lined amidst allegations of sexual harassment by committee members.

Known to be an early bloomer in the realm of writing, Condé penned her first one-act play at the tender age of 10, celebrating her mother. In her formative years, she reported for local newspapers and published book reviews at her college, the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. Later in life, she served as the head of the French Committee for the Memory of Slavery, a prestigious position bestowed upon her by the French President Jacques Chirac.

As a woman, a writer, and an individual, Maryse Condé stood at the confluence of cultures and languages, traversing the lost expanses of oral tradition and the all-consuming new world of the mass media. Akin to her writing, her life was written in her own language, that she fondly referred to as “Maryse Condé.” As the curtains drew on her storied life, she left her readers as enriched as they were bereft, holding in their hands her gift — that rare spark of faith and resilience required to navigate the convoluted terrains of the world.