Alain Mabanckou: Professor, Novelist, Iconoclast, Knight

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Africa as an entity faces a boat-load of challenges, struggles and obstacles; but don’t you ever believe that these challenges are totally unique to this continent or that it has stopped Africans from thriving in a myriad of industries.

The world of literature is inundated with African writers who have raised and continue to raise the bar in local and global literary circles and Alain Mabanckou is one such writer.

Credit: francetoday.com
Credit: francetoday.com

Hailed as one of the most notable French writers [we do know that parts of Africa are French-speaking right? Colonization and all…] he was born in Congo-Brazzaville in 1966, lived in Pointe-Noire and earned his baccalaureate in Letters and Philosophy at the Lycée Karl Marx.

Envisioning life as a legal luminary, Alain studied law briefly at the Marien Ngouabi University in Brazzaville, and subsequently received a scholarship to study in France at the age of 22. He studied law at the University of Paris-Dauphine, but he had also arrived armed and ready to bolster his true passion. With several manuscripts and collection of poems, Alain was publishing his work within three years of his arrival in France.

After receiving a post-graduate Diploma in Law from the University of Paris-Dauphine, he worked for ten years for the group Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux but his focus on writing never wavered. In 1998, he published his first novel  Bleu-Blanc-Rouge (Blue-White-Red), which won him the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 1999 -the Grand Prize for Literature from black Africa.

In 2002, Alain was employed to teach Francophone Literature at the University of Michigan as an Assistant Professor. After three years there he was hired in 2006 by the University of California Los Angeles, where he continues to work and teach as a Professor in French Literature.

Credit: wildriverreview.com
Credit: wildriverreview.com

His bibliography includes Le Serpent à Plumes (2003), a novel written from the point of view of Gregoire Nakobomayo, a fictional African serial killer; Verre Cassé (Broken Glass), a comic novel centered on a Congolese former teacher and life in the bar he now frequents; in 2006 he published Memoires de porc-épic (Memoirs of a Porcupine), which was awarded the Prix Renaudot, one of the highest distinctions in French literature.

In 2007, Alain’s early poetry was re-published by Points-Seuil; in 2009, his novel, Black Bazar, was published, portraying the lives of characters from the various African diasporas of France. It was ranked among the 20 best-selling books in France in the lists of L’Express, Le Nouvel Observateur and Livres Hebdo. Never one to rest on his oars, Alain published Demain j’aurai vingt ans, Gallimard (Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty) in 2010. In 2013, it was Lumières de Pointe-Noire,’( The Lights of Pointe-Noire.)

Credit: mondomix.com
Credit: mondomix.com

Alain’s work has been translated into fifteen languages, including English, American, Hebrew, Korean, Spanish, Polish, Catalan and Italian and includes several poems, essays and publications related to academia.

In 2010 he was appointed by decree of the President of the French Republic to the rank of Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor and in 2012 the French Academy awarded him the Grand Prize for Literature.

Serving as one of the judges for the Etisalat Prize for Literature 2014, and co-founding the ‘Africa rising’ literary festival in Congo Brazzaville instituted in 2013, it is clear that the Professor is set to revolutionise African literature in every way possible.

© 2014 – 2017, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya. All rights reserved.

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