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Patrick Chamoiseau, the "speech marker"

Born in Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean, the successful novelist, children's writer and essayist Patrick Chamoiseau is obsessed by the oral tradition that defines the culture of his native island. Mindful of the fragility of this heritage, Chamoiseau defines himself as a “speech marker”. As a dowser who tracks forgotten springs, he seeks to capture the ancestral stories carrying the memory of his people and uses it to create fictional works that pass on this identity. Intofrench introduces you to an innovative artist who will soon be in South Africa to discuss, among other things, his fascinating literary demeanour.

The mark of slavery

Treated like animals, deprived from the most basic rights, African people were imported as slaves in Martinique and in the rest of the Caribbean from the 17th century. Stuck in horror, these forced migrants nevertheless continued to rely on storytelling to pass on the myths of their homelands. Cut from its African roots, this oral tradition ended up forming a new “Creole” identity. Reinventing the very function of the writer, Chamoiseau takes the Creole oral tradition as the foundation of his work, using it to build his tales. Miles away from a folkloric approach, he seeks the very soul of his people by rehabilitating long overlooked myths and legends that tell the true history of Martinique.

A style like no other

As a “speech marker”, Chamoiseau seeks to capture the fluidity of the language in writing. To put flowing words on paper is an arduous task that requires taking liberties with grammar. Through all his work, Chamoiseau has reinvented the French language, adding new words and phrases – to such an extent that some academics now speak of “Chamoisean French”. From “Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows”, where humble workers on a street market confront the inexorable modernization with hilarious resourcefulness, to “Texaco”, a saga recalling a shanty-town rebellion against developers, Chamoiseau enchants his reader with his innovative and sensible prose that marks him as one of the most original voice in contemporary French literature.

Hadrien Diez
Photo by Olivier Longuet

Discover a fascinating interview with Patrick Chamoiseau here (in French only)

Chamoiseau's program in South Africa

Tuesday 28th August, 7pm: Johannesburg (Market Theatre) – M&G literary festival: screening of Aliker (a film by Guy Deslauriers, screenplay by Patrick Chamoiseau) - Free entrance

Thursday 30th of August: Cape Town (UCT) – masterclass with UCT students

Thursday 30th of August, 7pm: Cape Town (Alliance française) – screening of “Aliker” (a film by Guy Deslauriers, screenplay by Patrick Chamoiseau)

Saturday 1st of September, 11am: Johannesburg (Alliance française) – Encounter and debate with Patrick Chamoiseau (moderator: Georges Lory)

Saturday 1st of September, 4.30pm: Johannesburg (Market Theatre - Laager room) – M&G literary festival: “Speaking in tongues: talking, writing, translating”, Patrick Chamoiseau and Breyten Breytenbach discuss writing and translating with Georges Lory

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Patrick Chamoiseau with Nadine Gordimer during the French Season in South Africa

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