Édouard Glissant

Portrait Édouard Glissant
© Hartwig Klappert

Édouard Glissant was born in rural Sainte-Marie on the island of Martinique. He attended high school in the capital, Fort-de-France, and in 1946 he moved to Paris on a French government scholarship and studied Philosophy and History at the Sorbonne and Ethnology at the Musée de l’Homme. He wrote for the journals »Présence africaine« and »Les Lettres nouvelles« and five years after he made his literary debut – a volume of poetry entitled »Un champ d’îles« (1953; t: A field of islands) – his first novel, »La Lézarde« (1958; Eng. »The Ripening«, 1959), won the renowned Prix Renaudot. In 1959 Glissant founded the »Front Antillo-Guyanais«, which championed the independence of the French Antilles from the motherland and was later banned by Charles de Gaulle in 1961. Only after imprisonment and house arrest was Glissant allowed to return to Martinique, in 1965. There he founded the educational and cultural centre »L’Institut martiniquais d’études« and the humanities quarterly »Acoma«. Back in Paris in 1981, he worked as a leading UNESCO official and later as chief editor of the »Courrier de l’UNESCO«. Since the late eighties he has been a professor of literature both at Louisiana State University and City University New York.
Glissant is considered one of the most significant contemporary francophone authors within Latin American literature and an intellectual mentor in the field of post-colonial cultural theory. His work traces a counterconcept to closed eurocentric ways of thinking, using the Antilles and its culture of »creolization« as an example. In a heterogeneous, cross genre style, using »baroque« and »opaque« language as well as hybrid models of organisation, Glissant describes the complex and dynamic coexistence of the island’s inhabitants – in contrast to Western models of static systems and linear development. His »Traité du Tout-Monde« (1997; t: Treatise on the world), is far from being a classical tract, and indeed brings together story, essay, poetry and ethnological critique. »Le discours antillais« (1981; t: The Antillean discourse), a collection of lectures, compositions and prose sketches, exerted considerable influence on Third World literatures as an aesthetics of cultural diversity. In his intertextually linked novels, Glissant depicts the conditions of »creolization« over several generations by focusing on the story of two black families. The publication of his latest novel, »Ormerod« (2003), was closely followed by an essay entitled »La Cohée du Lamentin« (2005). In Germany, the collection of lectures »Kultur und Identität« (2005; OT: »Introduction a une poétique du divers«, 1996) has recently been published.
Glissant has been awarded numerous literary prizes. He has received honorary doctorates from the universities of York (Toronto), the West Indies (Trinidad) and Bologna (Italy) and is a member of the Ordre des Francophones d’Amériques (Québec). The author now lives in New York and Martinique.

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