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“What’s happened to us is what’s happening everywhere today”

Jacques Sassier © Editions Gallimard

From the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean, Patrick Chamoiseau has created world literature – and the concept of “Créolité”. We will all need this in coming years, he believes.

Chamoiseau is a Francophone author who joined forces in 1989 with two other writers to issue a manifesto which kicked off the Créolité movement – a celebration of the diversity and strength of Franco-Caribbean culture.

In 1992, his novel Texaco won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literature award. He is regarded as one of the most innovative and powerful Francophone authors of his generation.

Since your literary debut, you have written an impressive number of books in several genres. What brought you to literature initially?

What got me to start writing was the joy I experienced on reading certain books, and the admiration for the authors that this sparked. I believe there’s a natural, almost unshakeable continuity between reading and the desire to write.

And, among all the books you read for desire and pleasure, some stand out and change your sensibility in a fundamental way. These comprise what I call a “sentimentec” on everyone’s personal bookshelf – in other words, a concentrate of joy, feelings, enthusiasm, and artistic and intellectual stimuli. This sentimentec is the sun in an author’s writing.

A few years ago, you helped to create a “manifesto of Créolité”. This terms is still little known in Norway. What does it actually mean?

After Christopher Columbus set foot in America, terra incognito no longer existed. With the slave trade and colonisation, almost all peoples, cultures and civilisations eventually met on the American continent – but it was a meeting which took the form of shock, violence and genocide.

This blend of cultures, civilisations and individuals in exile is what we call “creolisation”. That phenomenon is found in all the countries around the Caribbean, and has found different expression in the various islands and mainland states. We call these “créolités”.

There’s a Cuban créolité which isn’t like the one found in Martinique or Brazil. In the globalised planet we occupy today, this phenomenon affects all cultures and civilisations. The crucial dynamic in the modern world is precisely a massive and growing contact between civilisations, peoples, individuals and cultures. In a way, what’s happened to us is what’s happening everywhere today.

France had a long involvement in colonialism and the slave trade, which is one of the subjects you write about. How does this history find expression in contemporary French literature?

France still has difficulties in acknowledging its own past with the slave trade and colonisation. Although the subject crops up now and again in its literature, much still remains to be done on this front.

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