Maryse Condé, international literary giant, has died at 90.


Brittany Allen

April 2, 2024, 11:52am

Maryse Condé, the Guadaloupean novelist, playwright, essayist, and “Grande Dame of World Letters” has died. A Booker Prize and New Academy Prize winning author, Condé was an international sensation, and the author of more than twenty books. She was known for her sly, spirited prose in which she explored food, love, feminism, diaspora, and “the ravages of colonisation.” Take 1986’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, for which she won the Littéraire de la Femme.

In that imagined life story of the famous Salem scapegoat, Condé re-conceived the Black Witch as a questing but traumatized self-chronicler, and victim of colonial fear. “What is a witch?” her Tituba asks. “I noticed that when he said the word, it was marked with disapproval. Why should that be? Why? Isn’t the ability to communicate with the invisible world, to keep constant links with the dead, to care for others and heal, a superior gift of nature that inspires respect, admiration, and gratitude?”

Liberation was her life-long subject. But Condé’s prose is often just as witty as it is politically rich. She parodied The Gospel, and adapted Wuthering Heights. She wrote both children’s books and high-octane dramas. She believed that humor was “the main tool of writing.” So perhaps more than anything, her canon can be categorized by its sweeping, delightful sense of curiosity. Edwidge Danticat has said of Condé, “I always look forward to her work to see how she addresses the familiar anew.”

When awarding her the New Academy Prize in 2018, chair of judges Ann Pålsson also praised Condé’s craftin both senses of the word. “The magic, the dream and the terror is, as also love, constantly present. Fiction and reality overlap each other… Respectfully and with humor, she narrates the postcolonial insanity, disruption and abuse, but also human solidarity and warmth. The dead live in her stories closely to the living.”

For a primer on Condé’s prose, you can find a lovely ode to I, Tituba… here, care of J. Nicole Jones at The Paris Review. Or read an excerpt of Condé’s food-focused essay and musings collection, Of Morsels and Marvels. We also published a slice of her 2020 novel, The Belle Creole. 

Her legion of outspoken fans includes Justin Torres, Bernardine Evaristo, Alain Mabanckou, the late Maya Angelou, and all of us at Literary Hub.



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