Since the continent of Africa started paying more attention to documentation which had before now been a major problem in the preservation of her history and philosophy, several authors have emerged, others have died while more have been born. Some have also been forgotten even while still alive and such is the tale of the writer below. Born on August 22, 1940 at Bandiagary, Mopti region, French Sudan [now Mali], Yambo Ouologuem is a Malian writer whose first novel, Le Devoir de Violence (Bound to Violence) in 1968 won the Prix Renaudot and with it, he became the first African writer to receive a major French literary award. He later published Lettre à la France nègre (1969), and Les mille et une bibles du sexe (1969) under the pseudonym Utto Rodolph. Le Devoir de Violence was initially well-received, but critics later charged that Ouologuem had plagiarized passages from Graham Greene and other established authors which resulted in controversy and a continuing academic debate over charges of plagiarism. Ouologuem turned away from the Western press as a result of the matter, and even today remains reclusive. Ouologuem was born to a ruling-class family and attended local schools in addition to a lycée in Bamako, Mali; he received degrees in philosophy, literature, and English in Paris in 1962. He also studied for his doctorate in sociology in Paris. His best-known work, Le Devoir de violence, is an epic about a fictitious Sudanese empire, in which hundreds of years of African history are unfolded and in which three forces down through the centuries are responsible for the black man’s “slave mentality”—the ancient African emperors, the Arabs, and finally, since the mid-1800s, the European colonial administrators—reducing the black man to “négraille” (a word coined by Ouologuem, which Ralph Manheim rendered as “nigger-trash” in his 1971 translation of the novel). The work was highly controversial, some critics claiming it to be a new form of African literature, others maintaining that it was highly derivative of Graham Greene’s It’s a Battlefield (1934) and of a work by André Schwarz-Bart, Le Dernier des Justes (1959; The Last of the Just). Ouologuem viewed the African’s lot as a legacy of violence and, in modern times, as a duty of violence toward white misconceptions of blacks that impose on him a slave mentality and character. Ouologuem’s bitterness about white attitudes also appears in some of his poems, and his Lettre à la France nègre (1969) attacks the “noble” sentiments that have been expressed by paternalistic French liberals about Africa. Other works include Les Milles et un bibles du sexe (1969; “The Thousand and One Bibles of Sex”), published under his pseudonym, Utto Rodolph. Ouologuem also coauthored French-language textbooks for foreigners under the title Terres du Soleil (1971; “Lands of the Sun”). Yambo Ouloguem was born an only son in an aristocratic Malian family in 1940 in Bandiagara, the main city in the Dogon region of Mali (then a part of French Soudan). His father was a prominent landowner and school inspector. He learned several African languages and gained fluency in French, English, and Spanish. After matriculating at a Lycée in the capital city of Bamako, he went to Paris in 1960, where he studied sociology, philosophy and English at Lycée Henry IV and from 1964 to 1966 he taught at the Lycée de Clarenton in suburban Paris, while studying for a doctorate in sociology at the École Normale Supérieure. In 1969, he published out a volume of biting essays, Lettre à la France nègre as well as an erotic novel, Les Milles et un bibles du sexe, published under the pseudonym of Utto Rodolph. After the plagiarism controversy over Le Devoir de violence, Ouloguem returned to Mali in the late seventies. Until 1984, he was the director of a Youth centre near Mopti in central Mali, where he wrote and edited a series of children's textbooks. He is reputed to have been leading a secluded Islamic life as a Marabout since then. Written by: Azeez Sanusi
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