Raphaël Confiant

Raphaël Confiant was born in Lorrain, a small village in northern Martinique, in 1951.  He attended school in Fort-de-France and studied in Aix-en-Provence.  Since 1979 he has been Professor of English and Creole on Martinique.  In 1982 he helped found the independent weekly newspaper ‘Antilla’ which is distributed in the Antilles and French Guyana.

As a ‘chabin’, a pale-skinned person with negroid features, Confiant identifies himself as being Creole.  Being of mixed race sets him apart from his legendary literary predecessor, the Caribbean author Aim Césaire, who focused on his African roots. Confiant wrote his first books in Creole, the language of the plantation workers, which had only been passed on orally. He remembers, “Writing in Creole was like blazing a trail through a virgin forest.  I had never read or even seen a book in Creole at this point! I had to hunt for words and invent a way to spell them.  It was exciting but discouraging because no publisher was mad enough to invest money in producing books no one could read.  We were forced to publish our works at our own expense.”

The verbal inventiveness which Confiant initially adopted also pervades the style of his French writing.  In 1988 he wrote his first novel in French, ‘Eau de café’. Its acceptance by a Paris publisher inspired him to such an extent that he wrote another novel, ‘Le Nègre et l’Amiral’, within four months.  This was published before the first book. Confiant explains his spurt of creativity as follows: “Shifting from Creole into French was like trading in a 2 CV for a BMW!” This led the author to translate one of his Creole novels, ‘Marisosé’ (1987), into French himself, paving the way for editions in other languages. ‘Mamzell Libellule’ the 1994 French title, also appeared in German as ‘Das Schmetterlingskostüm’ in 1998.

Confiant has won many awards for his work. In 1993 he received the Prix Casa de las Americas and the Prix Jet Tours for his childhood memoires, ‘Ravines du devant-jour’, which he dedicated to “all the little ‘chabins’ of the world”. He was awarded the Prix des Amériques insulaires et de la Guyane for his novel ‘La Panse du Chacal’ (2004). As a writer he has embraced various genres, ranging from the detective story to the historical novel.  His book, ‘Brin d’amour’ (2001), falls roughly into the latter category.  The story unfolds about 40 years ago, when the large sugar cane plantations, subsequently victims of tourism, were still in existence.  Confiant’s reminiscences transport him back to his childhood. He is nostalgic, but also critical. The central character, Lysiane, flees her narrow-minded milieu by remaining silent, reading, and writing.

© international literature festival berlin