Chamoiseau, Patrick (Writer)

(1953- ) nonfiction and fiction writer

Patrick Chamoiseau was born in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Educated as a lawyer in Martinique and France, Chamoiseau worked as a full-time probation officer for 15 years. In an interview with James Ferguson, Chamoiseau said, “It sounds terrible, but understanding these people’s experiences has helped me hugely as a writer, as it has allowed me to look into aspects of life that you wouldn’t normally encounter.” By writing evenings, weekends, and holidays, Chamoiseau managed to publish prolifically—novels, memoirs, literary criticism, and a collection of short stories.

Chamoiseau sees himself as a “word scratcher” —novelist or writer—who communicates traditions of creolite. To Chamoiseau, “Creolite tries to restore to the modern-day writer that status of storyteller by breaking down the barrier between the written and spoken French and Creole. If a writer can use Creole, then he’s much more in touch with the thoughts and expressions of ordinary people.”

Chamoiseau’s own multivocal novels explore sociolinguistic realities by juxtaposing French and Creole, producing what Pierre Pinalie calls “Freole,” a nonspoken, partially invented, and playful language. In his first published novel, Chronique des sept miseres (Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows, 1986), he examines the lives and stories of Martinican workers. His second novel, Solibo Mag-nifique (Solibo Magnificent, 1988), a murder suspense story, allegorizes the Creole oral culture. Themes of slavery, class, and colonialism run through Chamoiseau’s fictional works.

Inspired by Edouard Glissant’s Discours Antil-lais, Chamoiseau collaborated with Raphael Con-fiant and Jean Bernabe on “Eloge de la Creolite.” Published in 1989, the first sentence reads, “Neither Europeans, nor Africans, nor Asians, we proclaim ourselves Creoles.” The literary manifesto sparked the French-Antillean Creolite movement by challenging many ideas proposed by another Martinican writer, Aime cesaire, including the negritude literary movement.

“Eloge de la Creolite” generated much controversy, but it was the novel Texaco, published in French in 1992, that more staunchly positioned Chamoiseau as an exceptionally talented, internationally significant writer. In Texaco, the character Sophie Laborieux tells the history of the village of Texaco to save it from an urban planner’s intended alterations. Texaco won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt the year it was published, prompting the translation of a number of Chamoiseau’s works into multiple languages.

Apart from novels, Chamoiseau has published two autobiographical narratives on his childhood in Fort-de-France: Antan d’enfance (Childhood, 1993) and Chemin-d’ecole (School Days, 1994). Antan d’enfance explores Chamoiseau’s magical experience of childhood and foregrounds his mother, who raised five children amidst poverty. The sequel Chemin-d’ecole introduces readers to Chamoiseau’s Francophile and Africanist teachers, as well as the imaginative Big Bellybutton, who tells fantastical stories. Like Chamoiseau’s other works, Chemin-d’ecole received accolades: “Imaginative and moving,” said the Washington Post.

In the 1999 afterword to the English translation of the Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows, Linda Coverdale asserted, “Chamoiseau is a free-range writer who tries to keep his language ‘open’ so that readers will feel its humble, questing flexibility, a kind of remarkable mongrelism that proves perfect for the task at hand: presenting a deftly self-conscious form of Creoleness in this chronicle of ‘mouth-memory’ telling stories to a word scratcher.”

Other Works by Patrick Chamoiseau

Creole Folktales. New York: New Press, 1994. Seven Dreams of Elmira: A Tale of Martinique.

Nashville, Tenn.: St. Albans, 2001. Strange Words. London: Granta Books, 1998.

Works about Patrick Chamoiseau

Milne, Lorna. “From Creolite to Diversalite: The Post-colonial Subject in Patrick Chamoiseau’s Texaco.” In Paul Gifford and Johnnie Gratton, eds., Subject Matters: Subject and Self in French Literature from Descartes to the Present. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi, 2000.

“Sex, Gender and the Right to Write: Patrick Chamoiseau and the Erotics of Colonialism.” Paragraph: The Journal of the Modern Critical Theory Group 24, no. 3 (2001): 59-75. Shelly, Sharon L. “Addressing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity with Patrick Chamoiseau’s Chemin-d’e-cole.” French Review: Journal of the American Association of Teachers of French 75, no. 1 (October 2001): 112-26.

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