Booker Prize, Nobel, Goncourt: historic treble for African literature

The harvest of literary prizes collected by writers from the black continent would testify to an authentic creative effervescence, which primarily benefits English-speaking authors.

The Nobel, the Booker Prize and the Goncourt: in 2021, major literary prizes were won by African writers. A battery of awards which illustrates the recognition of an African literature in phase with the questions of our time. “We are witnessing a renaissance in the attention of the European literary world towards Africa”, told AFP Xavier Garnier, professor of French-speaking African literature and Swahili at Sorbonne Nouvelle University. a “European prize pool” which he describes as “striking», While African writers are historically under-represented in international charts.

This year, however, they are the ones who won the day. Senegalese Mohamed Mbougar Sarr became at the age of 31 the first writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win the Goncourt, Grail of French letters, on Wednesday for his novel The most secret memory of men. On the same day, South African Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize, the most popular award for novels written in English. And the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded this year to Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah. A list that does not stop there: the International Booker Prize crowned the Franco-Senegalese David Diop, the very prestigious Neustadt Prize was awarded to Senegalese Boubacar Boris Diop and the Camoes Prize – which rewards a Portuguese-speaking author – has was given to the Mozambican Paulina Chiziane.

A proliferation of literary genres

So many distinctions that mark the “Revival of African literature observed over the past ten years”, abounds with AFP Boniface Mongo-Mboussa, doctor in comparative literature. A fundamental movement, created by a growing number of professional writers, observes the researcher. “Which was not the case with our elders», He underlines, observing in addition “The arrival on stage of women” : Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Paulina Chiziane (Mozambique) or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (Nigeria) already awarded several prestigious prizes.

The themes addressed have also changed, points out Boniface Mongo-Mboussa, also literary critic. Mohamed Mbougar Sarr “Chose to talk about literature” in his award-winning novel, thus adopting “A form of distancing” with the more usual subjects of African novels “Who spoke for example of violence, war, child soldiers”. Gender, homosexuality, ecology, feminism or even Afrofuturism, a current of African science fiction, have thus made their appearance in African literary productions.

“It is from the African continent that we are realizing the great dangers (social, ecological, political, Editor’s note) that threaten us “, says Xavier Garnier. The 1950s and 1960s were also “Moments of recognition of African literature”, but above all as “Politico-literary phenomenon”, as with Léopold Sédar Senghor, writer, poet and first president of Senegal, he adds.

English, the first African literary language

This development is also driven by the creation of publishing houses in Africa, the proliferation of literary reviews on the continent or the appearance of literary prizes devoted to African literature, notes Claire Ducournau, sociologist of literature at the university. Paul-Valéry from Montpellier. “A lot of things have been moving over the past ten years”, tells AFP the researcher who has studied the recognition of French-speaking African authors over several decades.

However, in the French-speaking world, the distinction between French-speaking and French literature remains, notes Boniface Mongo-Mboussa. Several African writers have won the Renaudot, another major French literary prize, and the Franco-Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou has taught at the Collège de France. But French-speaking African writers are still sometimes seen as “The ancient products of the Empire” and not really like full-fledged actors in the literary scene, adds the Doctor of Letters.

Anglophone African authors are fully integrated into American and North European literary education, he notes. They also benefit from a more dynamic market and greater visibility by the public or critics. Of the five African authors who won the Nobel Prize, four are English-speaking (the 5e is Arabic-speaking). And recognition is even more difficult for those who write in Swahili, Wolof or other languages ​​of the African continent.

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Booker Prize, Nobel, Goncourt: historic treble for African literature

Hank Gilbert