Edem Awumey

Portrait Edem Awumey
© Jean-Marc Carisse

Edem Awumey was born in Lomé, Togo in 1975. He studied literature at the university in his hometown from 1995 to 2000 and received a UNESCO Aschberg scholarship in 2000, which enabled him to work as a writer-in-residence in Marnay-sur-Seine, France. By 2005, he had obtained degrees in language, literature, and cultural development from the University of Cergy-Pontoise and completed his doctorate on literature in exile. His work on exile in the work of the Guinean writer Tierno Monénembo was awarded the Prix Renaudot.

Awumey made his debut with a series of short stories before his first novel, »Port-Mélo«, appeared in 2005. The novel received the Grand prix de littérature de l’Afrique noire. The story takes place in the capital of an African coastal state, where a cruel militia suppresses any protest with bloody force. The protagonist Manuel keeps a notebook in which he records of the number of people who disappeared at the port, which makes him a target of the militia. Edem outlines the microcosm of the harbor people: street vendors, prostitutes, shoe cleaners. »Port-Mélo« is an epic of the tension between black misery and dictatorial power set in contemporary Africa. Awumey’s second novel, »Les Pieds sales« (2009; Eng. »Dirty Feet«), was nominated for the Prix Goncourt and tells a story of exile and migration between Africa and Paris. »Edem has recreated a world where – beyond the facts and the recent history of his country, Togo – we find characters who belong to the world of pain. Whether they are in Africa or Europe, these cursed souls roam under the novelist’s complicit gaze. This novel, whose scope is universal, concerns us all« (Tahar Ben Jelloun). »Explication de la nuit« (2013; Eng. »Descent into Night«, 2017) is dedicated to the lost victims of violent dictatorships. Ito Baraka is one of those who were locked in a death camp. However, he was eventually released and was able to leave his country. In exile, seriously ill with cancer, he reflects on his life in a basement apartment. Awumey’s novel is not just about torture and betrayal. He also highlights the role of literature and theater, which by the 1990s, no longer focused on colonialism, but on totalitarian forms of rule. A third storyline depicts Ito’s life in exile in Gatineau, Canada. In »Mina parmi les ombres« (2018; Eng. »Mina Among the Shadows«, 2020), myths and legends merge with reality as a man searches for a woman and discovers today’s Africa, where he is faced with the consequences of religious fundamentalism and a new form colonization under the pretext of globalization.

Awumey was a lecturer in French literature at McGill University and the Université du Québec en Outaouais. The author lives in Gatineau, Quebec.