at Rue Cambon invite
Charlotte Casiraghi and Anna Mouglalis
For the seventh edition of the Rendez-vous littéraires rue Cambon [Literary Rendezvous at Rue Cambon], the House of CHANEL and ambassador and spokesperson for the House Charlotte Casiraghi invite writer Léonora Miano, along with actress and House ambassador Anna Mouglalis.
Animated by literary historian Fanny Arama, this encounter is dedicated to the writer’s singular career and reflects on her childhood in Cameroun to being awarded the most prestigious of literary prizes. Together, they evoke the role that literature can play in a lifetime and the emancipatory function of motherhood according to Léonora Miano.
Born in Douala (Cameroon) in 1973, Léonora Miano is one of the leading voices in Francophone literature. A novelist, playwright and essayist, she is the author of around twenty books. Her work explores unique yet universal Sub-Saharan or Afro-descendant experiences. Léonora Miano was awarded the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2006 for Contours du jour qui vient (Plon), the Prix Seligmann against racism in 2012 for Écrits pour la parole (L’Arche), and both the Prix Femina and the Grand Prix du Roman Métis in 2013 for La Saison de l’ombre (Season of the Shadow) (Grasset). In 2020, the Université de Lorraine, in collaboration with the Université de la Grande Région, which brings together seven European universities, founded the Prix littéraire Frontières-Léonora Miano in recognition of her writings and her social and political commitments.
Léonora Miano created and curates the Quilombola series at Seagull Books, an independent publisher based in Calcutta (India). She is also the founder and director of Quilombo Publishing in Lomé (Togo).
© Académie Goncourt
Léonora Miano, Contours du jour qui vient, © PLON 2006.
© Prix Seligmann - Chancellerie des universités de Paris.
Léonora Miano, Écrits pour la parole, © Éditions de l'Arche, 2012.
© Prix Femina
© Grand Prix du Roman Métis.
Léonora Miano, La Saison de l’ombre © Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2013.
Léonora Miano, Season of the Shadow, Translated by Gila Walker, London: Seagull Books, 2018.
© 2012 Université de Lorraine.
© Université de la Grande Région
© Prix littéraire Frontières-Léonora Miano.
© Seagull Books.
© The Quilombo Publishing.
Listen to the full Literary rendezvous
a hyper contemporary writer
In the beginning there was jazz:
“To speak all languages through music. That was her avowed dream.”
Léonora Miano, born in Douala, Cameroon, in 1973, often recalls her father's record collection and the singing lessons she took with the singer and composer Michele Hendricks. Her own voice as a writer carries the vital cry of the blues celebrated by her elders, but also the circular structure of this music and its sources - spirituals, recitals - which informs her early novels including Dark Heart of the Night (2005), Contours du jour qui vient (2006) and Tels des astres éteints (2008). The author of some twenty books, in each one she affirms a writing ethic that imprints a sense of responsibility in the reader's mind, in a way that is at once bold, poetic and visionary.
Writing the Blues
Reading a Léonora Miano novel for the first time can be unsettling, as the voice and behaviour of her characters touch on a pure poetry with an almost musical grasp of the world. Her heroes and heroines are often worn down by difficult, seemingly impossible, living conditions, which they must battle through to reach the light. Her first novels (Dark Heart of the Night, 2004; Contours du jour qui vient, 2006 and Les aubes écarlates: Sankofa cry, 2009) are journeys through pain, told by young people who apprehend the violence of the world through the prism of their stupefaction, their impatience and their youth.
The majority of Léonora Miano's books, set in sub-Saharan Africa, examine the after-effects of human hatred and domination, as well as the remnants they leave behind in the unconscious and societal present, through their most vulnerable components: young women, children and the elderly. They also carry the echo of beloved books by Caribbean and black American writers who blew unexpected winds over her life: “They revealed me to myself,” she confides.
The first volume of Twilight of Torment explores the values and decisions of four women revolving around one man whom they all cherish as mother, sister, lover and wife. The second volume adopts the male point of view and exposes the depths of Amok, whose contradictions and deeply repressed hauntings are gradually revealed by the author. In this novel, as with the others, the silence of the elders in regards to past troubles systematically holds back the emancipation of the characters. The incommunicability between Madame and her mother Camilla in Twilight of Torment augurs the most raging incapacities. The lack of connection between the young Ayané, who spent much of her youth in France, and her family in Africa in Dark Heart of the Night generates a persistent feeling of foreignness. In Stardust, Louise doesn’t talk to her parents and yet has only questions about her family, to whom she owes her isolation in France.
Stardust, Léonora Miano's latest novel (albeit the first she wrote), is her most personal, most autobiographical, and probably for this reason, her most tender work. In it, she describes a critical moment in her life, when, in the guise of Louise, she had to face precariousness, insecurity and the aggression of others, while simultaneously embodying a world rich in promise and hope for her barely one-year-old daughter:
“For her daughter, she refuses. The determinism. The conditioning. She only wants to give her choices. She wants her to be free.”
As the obstacles accumulate, as her solitude grows, as she stands surrounded by the defeated - often women - writing appears to be the surest way to embrace the severity of life with a rigour and respect. One can only wonder when Léonora Miano's benevolence and generosity towards the world, which forever bore its fangs at her, was born: when she was still a child? Listening to the romantic songs of Sarah Vaughan, whom she worshipped as a teenager? Battling through the trials of life? Coming into contact with the soft grain of a blank page?
Conceived both as a way out of silence and as a prayer for generations to come, Léonora Miano's work posits writing as the primary condition for intimate, political and social revolutions. Her novels are presented as fables and yet at the same time touch - through the universality of the issues addressed - on the most stylised myth and the most detailed and raw realism. This tour de force is shared by all the great novelists, who know how to ask the most difficult and vital questions - how to live? how to act? how to love? why renounce? - and all this, through the painting of shared destinies.
Triumphing over the shadow
Léonora Miano's numerous essays and writings for the theatre address questions relating to the multiplicity of origins, the relationship between Africa and the West and the cultural representations produced by this relationship. If Léonora Miano wants the world to change its view of sub-Saharan Africa, it is via a greater knowledge of this territory and with the aim of restoring sovereignty to the discourses of those who inhabit it. A few years ago, in this perspective she founded The Quilombo Publishing, a publishing house based in Lomé, Togo, whose various collections explore sub-Saharan culture in its oral and written, fictional and theoretical forms. Her work as a novelist and essayist is inextricably linked to her efforts to bring to light a generation of writers and storytellers whose stories have, for too long, been a peripheral zone of social and literary discourse in Africa and the West. Léonora Miano restores a living, ultra-contemporary literature to its rightful place, and in doing so helps re-evaluate the discourses of an overconfident public opinion and its values.
In Afropea: Utopie post-occidentale et post-raciste, Léonora Miano examines and deconstructs trapped words like 'nation', 'Africa', 'black' and shatters the reference values of ‘belonging’ and ‘power’ that undermine contemporary debates. It expands the boundaries of key notions such as freedom, feminism and justice. It demands mixture and enjoins to stop summoning human beings to choose between several possibilities. And since “there is always, in the bedrock of the sentence, a multitude of other languages”, she requires us to live on the frontier, because in each of us there are unnamed ancestors with painful destinies, contradictory decisions and crushing silences.
The questions she asks in more poetic yet still political texts such as Ce qu'il faut dire are implacable and indispensable:
“How to fraternise.
When the heroes of some are the executioners of others?”
In L'autre langue des femmes, she affirms the need for self-determination of sub-Saharan women, who for too long have been forced to choose between the Western or the Eastern example. Through the portrait of a multitude of women personalities and local movements, she urges the reader to listen - at last - and to be inspired by the paths of women who “do not define themselves through the negative action of others on them, and do not wait to have models to invent their lives.”
Léonora Miano's writing combines a formidable directness with a poetic depth of tragic dimensions, without pathos or sentimentality. She triumphs in a dual ability to consider the meaning of the world as it is, with both the rigidity of a clinical gaze and the warmth of a humanist and altruistic ethic. Léonora Miano does not envisage freedom as an upward movement, from the bottom to the top, which would cruelly see the diminished face of the other abandoned by the roadside, but as a gesture towards the outside, where justice means never excluding or marginalising in order to define or free oneself.
Léonora Miano, Stardust,
© Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2022.
Léonora Miano, L’Intérieur de la nuit,
© Plon, 2005.
Léonora Miano, Dark Heart of the Night,
Translated by Tasmin Black, © University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
Léonora Miano, Contours du jour qui vient,
© PLON 2006.
Léonora Miano, Tels des astres éteints,
© Plon, 2008.
Léonora Miano, Habiter la frontière,
© Éditions de l’Arche, 2012.
Léonora Miano, Les aubes écarlates : Sankofa cry,
© Plon, 2009.
Léonora Miano, Crépuscule du tourment,
© Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2016.
Léonora Miano, Twilight of Torment, Volume 1 and 2, Melancholy, Translated by Gila Walker, London: Seagull Books, 2022.
© The Quilombo Publishing.
Léonora Miano - Afropea : Utopie post-occidentale et post-raciste,
© Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2020.
Léonora Miano, Écrits pour la parole,
© Éditions de l’Arche, 2012.
Léonora Miano, Ce qu’il faut dire,
© Éditions de l’Arche, 2019.
Léonora Miano, L’autre langue des femmes,
© Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2021.