Léonora Miano is a well-established author of fourteen books, most of them translated into various languages. Born in Duala, Cameroon (1973), she came to France as a student and now resides there permanently.
Her multi-awarded first novel, L’intérieur de la nuit (Dark Heart of the Night), released in 2005, is part of the Cameroonian high school curriculum since 2010. Her much acclaimed work has been awarded prestigious distinctions, including the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens (2006), for the novel Contours du jour qui vient, and the Prix Seligmann contre le racisme (2012), for Ecrits pour la parole. Her novel, La saison de l’ombre (2013), was awarded the Prix Fémina and the Grand prix du roman metis, that same year.
It took only a few years for Miano to be ranked alongside the most prominent French-speaking writers, with her novels, plays, shorts stories and non-fiction. Her work drew instant attention because of its sheer boldness and ability to portray the naked humanity of its characters. She shows them as beings with deep emotions, thoughts and spirituality. Their humanity now restored, they reassert their centrality and universality in the overall scheme of things, compelling the reader to relate, overcoming prejudices and the confine of race.
Miano´s prose is unapologetically committed to creating a literary version of the Africana philosophy born of academia, which emphasizes the inherent humanity and agency of African peoples, then and now. As a consequence, her work highlights much of the continental African and Diasporic experience that generally go unnoticed, but where Africa and the Diasporas are sometimes engaged in dialogue. Her literary journey is a confrontation with pain, loss, trauma and silence as she comes to grips with the impact of History on the inner lives of sub-Saharan Africans. Hers is a dauntless voyage through chaos and turmoil, propelled by the tenacious audacity to speak the unspeakable, with the process of healing acting as the driving force behind her powerful literary voice.
When Miano’s novels are set against an African background (e.g., L’intérieur de la nuit, Contours du jour qui vient, Les aubes écarlates), they offer no room for frolics in colorful markets or titillating and picturesque safaris in folkloric savannahs. Her depiction of Africa’s landscape, whether in pre-colonial or present times, is always linked to a higher aim – the unraveling of the multiple layers of the souls of African folk; those whose experience over the centuries, prolonged into the present, is one of overwhelming pain. Africans are a deeply wounded people, and Miano’s razor-sharp dissection of that pain, the eroded self-esteem and self-loathing it has wrought on countless Africans, spares no one. She sees recovery and the freeing of the soul as possible only if the pain is named and responsibility for it is acknowledged, wherever possible. That´s why she underlines so heavily the need to reckon with the internal forces that made Africa so vulnerable to destruction, for they are still at work.
Those of Miano’s novels that are set in Africa, depict an imaginary country called Mboasu, which signifies our home in the Duala language. Two reasons dictated that choice. One: a deep-seated resolve to work as a transnational African writer that claims the entire continent of Africa as her/his inspirational source. Two: a poetic way of erasing the borders laid down by colonization, in an attempt to heal the wounds the latter has left behind.
Miano is well known for her portrayal of Afropeans (Afro-Europeans) who reside in France, where she lives. This dimension of her work addresses issues of race, the aftermath of colonialism and issues related to the invisibility of minorities in today´s France. In these works (e.g., Ecrits pour la parole, Blues pour Elise or Ces âmes chagrines), she reveals the concealed Black presence in various regions of continental European France. Focusing on the fringes of contemporary France, places to which the descendants of former slaves or colonial immigrants have been physically and politically relegated, the author awakens the world to the news that France is not an all-White country. By so doing, she raises issues regarding the definitions of French identities, in the plural, and the need to add new narratives to the national discourse.
The novel, Tels des astres éteints, addresses a topic that is hardly ever discussed: Black nationalism in the context of France. Her non-fiction work, Habiter la frontière, is a reflection on the way people of African descent are perceived in France. The book discusses inter alia the reluctance of France as a nation, to acknowledge Black heroes and heroines, whose names are not even included in the curriculum of French schools.
Mapping out the African Atlantic
Léonora Miano‘s works are steeped in what she calls the Africa´s Atlantic memory, which she views as the core of her literature. That topic is a trope in her works, always reminding the reader of the tragedy that dragged on for centuries in sub-Saharan Africa. In her fiction work, the African Atlantic is depicted in terms of an intimate cartography whose routes lead to the singularities that pockmark the African experience.
What does Africa have to say about those times when so many of her children were uprooted? In what ways have populations been concretely affected by capture and displacement, both overseas and on the continent itself? How has this major tragedy shaped relationships and the vision of self in sub-Saharan Africa?
There are so many questions to be posed about a loaded subject that is difficult to deal with by the peoples now living in places where populations were forced to endure the brunt of colonization. For not solely one must reckon with the fact that Africa was colonized; it was colonized by the very same people who implemented large-scale human trafficking; the same people who erected the slavery system in the Americas, at the expense of those very displaced Africans.
Miano’s writing on Africa´s Atlantic memory focuses on the spiritual and emotional aspects of the issue. Les aubes écarlates (2009), a novel that was awarded the Trophée des Arts Afro-Caribéens in 2010, give voice to those millions who died during the Middle Passage and who demand a symbolic burial so their tormented souls can rest at last. Otherwise, they promise no peace for the inhabitants of their former homeland. This novel also novel addresses the inherent contradiction in a people´s claim to respect and honor the dead, while at the same time utterly neglecting the memory of so many who perished in unspeakable circumstances.
La saison de l’ombre (2013), a novel awarded the Prix Fémina and the Grand prix du roman métis that same year, takes the reader to a small pre-colonial African village where twelve men have mysteriously and suddenly disappeared in the aftermath of a raging fire that nearly destroyed the entire village. It will require one woman´s stubbornness and deductive reasoning to understand that those men were captured and handed over to slavers.
The story is told entirely from the perspective of people who neither self-defined as Africans or Blacks; people for whom notions such as “racial brotherhood” were unthinkable or irrelevant. Race, as we know it today, is a Western construct. The novel also reconstructs a pre-colonial universe still unknown to many, imbued with its own internal logic and overall view of the world and highlights the wrenching pain of those whose loved ones were so brutally whisked away.
Red in blue trilogie (2015), is a play in three parts where Miano again resurrects the dead. A group of Africans who took part in the capture and removal of other Africans are summoned before a goddess and asked to explain their actions. The play then reveals complex situations that bring to light the human factor inherent to all decision-making processes. In another section of the triptych, an African American woman wants to bury her brother in an African village. Thanks to DNA testing, the man had traced his family’s ancestry to that particular community. The text ponders on the renewal of relationships between Africa and its Diasporas. Is it possible to overcome and move beyond the stigma of the past and its current prolongations? Are healthy and fruitful relationships conceivable? A long conversation ensues…
Léonora Miano´s committment as an intellectual is intertwined with her overall objectives as a writer. To increase the awareness of Africa´s Atlantic memory, among Africans and all other peoples who are the product of it, is her goal. Her latest non-fiction work, L’impératif transgressif (2016), deals in a crucial chapter with the overhauling of terminology. Africans are challenged to come up with their own descriptive terminology to depict their continent´s tragedy, being attentive to each experience´s particularity. And she shows where current designations are rooted in a euro-centric reading of the total story.
Lecture program. Léonora Miano has crafted a three-lecture platform on Africa´s Atlantic memory. She is to be contacted by interested parties at: LM-Institute@frenchafricana.org
Crépuscule du tourment, novel, Grasset (Fall 2016).
L’impératif transgressif, non fiction, L’Arche Editeur, (Spring 2016).
Red in blue trilogie, drama, L’Arche Editeur, 2015.
La saison de l’ombre, novel, Grasset, 2013. Prix Fémina & Grand prix du roman métis.
Habiter la frontière, non fiction, L’Arche Editeur, 2012.
Ecrits pour la parole, drama, L’Arche Editeur, 2012. Prix Seligmann contre le racisme.
Ces âmes chagrines, novel, Plon, 2011.
Blues pour Elise, novel, Plon, 201o.
Soulfood équatoriale, short stories, Nil Editions, 2009. Prix Eugénie Brazier.
Les aubes écarlates, novel, Plon, 2009. Trophée des Arts Afro-Caribéens.
Afropean soul, short stories, Flammarion, 2008.
Tels des astres éteints, novel, Plon, 2008.
Contours du jour qui vient, novel, Plon, 2006. Prix Goncourt des lycéens.
L’intérieur de la nuit, novel, Plon, 2005. Prix Montalembert du premier roman de femme. Prix Louis Guilloux. Prix René Fallet.
Volcaniques: une anthologie du plaisir, short stories, Mémoire d’encrier, 2014.
Première nuit: une anthologie du désir, short stories, Mémoire d’encrier, 2013.