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JWIL mourns the passing of Maryse Condé (1934-2024)

The Journal of West Indian Literature joins many in celebrating the life and writing of Maryse Condé, the dynamic Guadeloupean author who passed away on April 2, 2024 at the age of 90. Her prolific and globally-recognized body of work offered postcolonial feminist perspectives informed by her peripatetic life led across the Caribbean, Africa, Western Europe and the US. Among the many awards she gathered in her lifetime were two major honors by France – a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in 2014 and a Grand Croix in the National Order of Merit in 2019 – and the New Academy Prize in Literature, an alternative prize created when the Nobel was not awarded in 2018. She was twice shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, first for her entire body of work in 2015, and then for her novel The Gospel According to the New World in 2023. She chaired Columbia University’s Center for French and Francophone studies from its foundation in 1997 to 2002. She retired from teaching in 2005.

Her debut novel Hérémakhonon was published in 1976 after Condé returned to France (where she had been sent from Guadeloupe for high school) after over a decade spent in West Africa. She completed her doctorate in comparative literature in 1975. Her major works include the novels Ségou (1984) and its sequel Ségou II (1985); Moi, Tituba, sorcière: noire de Salem (1986; I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem), based on the story of an enslaved woman tried for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts; and Une Saison à Rihata (1981; A Season in Rihata), set in late twentieth-century Africa. Condé continued to explore with great complexity and nuance themes of postcolonial identity, gender, memory, community belonging, and Black diasporic life in her later works such as Traversée de la mangrove (1989; Crossing the Mangrove), La Colonie du nouveau monde (1993), La Migration des coeurs (1995; Windward Heights), Desirada (1997), Célanire cou-coupé (2000; Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?), The Belle Créole (2020), Histoire de la femme cannibale (2003; The Story of the Cannibal Woman), Victoire, les saveurs et les mots (2006; Victoire: My Mother’s Mother), Les belles ténébreuses (2008), En attendant la montée des eaux (2010; Waiting for the Waters to Rise), Fabuleux et triste destin d’Ivan et Ivana (2017; The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana), and L’Évangile du nouveau monde (2021; The Gospel According to the New World). She was known for challenging orthodoxy of all kinds and was especially resistant to the idea that she needed to write in creole or to conform to masculinist ideas about the nature of créolite.

In her later years, Condé, despite failing health, continued to delve into profound storytelling, describing it as a compelling yet enigmatic compulsion. During her JWIL Twitter residency on Condé in April 2023, Kavita Ashana Singh (@kavitaashana), a Caribbean literature professor at the University of Houston and a former student of Condé’s, reflected on the inseparability of life and writing in the Guadeloupean writer’s oeuvre. Singh’s interview with Condé appears in JWIL’s November 2022 issue. We honor her life and her work.

JWIL mourns the passing of Lakshmi Persaud (1939-2024)

JWIL mourns the passing on January 14, 2024 of the Trinidadian-British writer, Lakshmi Persaud, one of the first and most influential writers to narrate the complex experiences of Indo-Caribbean women both in the region and in the diaspora. Born in 1939 in Tunapuna, Trinidad and having lived in the UK since the 1970s, Persaud was a teacher, a journalist, and author of five novels: Butterfly in the Wind (1990), Sastra (1993), For the Love of My Name (1999), Raise the Lanterns High (2004), and Daughters of Empire (2012). Persaud’s work is particularly notable for its exploration of how the constraints and possibilities of an orthodox Hindu upbringing paired with the multicultural Caribbean landscape unfold in the lives of girls and women as they navigate spaces of home, school, professional life, and diaspora. In Butterfly in the Wind and Sastra in particular, we find Persaud fleshing out the Hindu Indo-Caribbean world that V.S. Naipaul introduced in his early novels while providing greater agency and voice to women protagonists.

Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press was Persaud’s first publisher and urged her to think of herself as a novelist when she had yet to embrace that identity herself. His memories of her are available here. As Poynting notes, “Hers was an example of how to seize the time in the second half of her life with zest, hard work and an increasing sense of what the novel could achieve. She was 53 when Butterfly in the Wind was published and 75 when her last novel Daughters of Empire came out in 2012.” See here for Lisa Outar’s review of that last novel, Daughters of Empire, which traces the ruptures and continuities of the migrant experience for Indo-Caribbean women across different branches of a middle-class family.

Literary critics paid particular attention to Persaud’s evocative treatment of food in her novels. As Brinda Mehta argued, “Sastra and Butterfly in the Wind are illustrations of Hindu attitudes toward food as well as women’s efforts to contribute to community development through their control of the kitchen.” Persaud thus contributed to revealing some of the subtler and less celebrated forms that Indo-Caribbean feminist practices can take.

For Anita Baksh’s interview with Persaud, where she describes the influence that Naipaul had upon her, the value that she placed upon teaching, and her version of feminism among other topics, see here. And for an abundant list of reviews of Persaud’s work, see here.

We honor her memory and her important contribution to the field of Caribbean women’s writing.

Death of Dub Poet, Klyde Broox, featured in our Dub Poetry Special Issue

JWIL mourns the passing of Jamaican Canadian dub poet, Klyde Broox, who died January 20, 2024 at the age of 66. From his prizewinning “Ode to Bamboo,” Klyde made an impact on the dub poetry scene, both in Jamaica and Canada. He mastered the art of word and syllabic play, deployed Rastafarian dread talk like a “weapon of mass instruction,” and startled and surprised his audiences with his incisive critique of power and privilege. “Democracy/, democracy/, what a hypocrisy/, what an irony?/ Dem a mock we you see/ de-moc-racy” are words that still resound.

He has left a lasting legacy of powerful poetry through audio, visual, and print performances, along with searing critiques of systems of oppression, delivered with humour and penetrating insight. You can listen to his voice, for example, in our Special Issue on Dub Poetry, guest-edited by Phanuel Antwi, and read his “Deja Voodoo: Literary Coup under the Influence of Dub” here: www.jwilonline.org/downloads/vol-30-no-1-november-2021/

A graduate of Cornwall College, Klyde studied at Mico Teachers College (now Mico University College) and was a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami’s Caribbean Writers Summer Institute. Broox received several awards for his creative and community work, including the 2005 City of Hamilton Arts Award for Literature, the Hamilton Black History Committee’s John C. Holland Award for Arts Achievement in 2011, and the Arts Hamilton/Seraphim Editions Best Poetry Book in 2006 for My Best Friend is White (McGilligan Books, 2005). Additionally, his self-published chapbook Poemstorm appeared in 1989.

On January 20, 2024, a distinctive and important creative light was dimmed, but not extinguished! In a 2014 blogpost, Broox said: “I’ll take every minute I can get here, and celebrate it, living as loudly as I can. And when my time comes to tread on, I resolve, unlike Dylan Thomas, to go quietly into that good night. Until then, I’m making as much poem-noise as I can, yeah man.” Blaze on Klyde Broox, blaze on, your voice, ever living, ever true, will continue to ring loud and clear across the ages! JWIL offers condolences to his family, friends and fellow poets.