Translated from "Littérature négroafricaine francophone et nouveaux medias
la question de la visibilité"|
DEA Thesis submitted by Gabriel YANDJOU
Université de Cergy-Pontoise, 2004.
Dear Gabriel YANDJOU,
Please find below some answers to your questions. They have been quite useful to me as they highlight some elements of the site that could be improved.
Can you give me a brief account of the origin of the site, your objectives, thought process, (possibly) difficulties and the variety of reactions registered ?
To make it short, this website has its roots in Professor Beverley Ormerod's
teaching activities. Hailing from Jamaica, she included the study of women
writers in the unit on Francophone African literature she offered at the
University of Western Australia in the late 1980s. Given the dearth of material
on African women writers at the time, she entrusted me with the responsibility
to look for suitable books and publications in France and in Francophone
African countries. At the end of this initial exploration of the field, we
published a small book that mentioned all the women authors discovered. In the
mid 1990s, the growing interest for the Internet in our Faculty lead me to
update the list of women authors compiled earlier and to put it on the web,
progressively adding new authors and new books. The site has been regularly updated ever
At present, one of the main difficulties relates to finding new books published in Africa and in buying them once they have been located. Postage and bank fees are exorbitant, i.e., many times the value of the books. Furthermore, books published by vanity presses or ephemeral small publishers are, most of the time, nowhere to be found. The literary slump that currently plagues African publishing is detrimental to everyone and it is most unfortunate that Paris has become, more then ever before, the inevitable provider of what is available on the market.
Why a site dedicated to "Women" and "Black-Africa" ?
"Women", because the unit devoted to Francophone African literature at UWA
dealt only with male authors and Prof. Ormerod thought the time was ripe for a
change and for the introduction of some female authors, especially since the
majority of her students were women. Moreover, at the time, fighting sexism in
its many forms was an important preoccupation of Anglo-Saxon universities.
"Black-Africa" because it was related to one of the course units taught in the French Department at the time (successive restructures got the better of the Department and some units were dropped later on).
The title "Top priority reading"; what are the reasons and criteria behind this choice ? Why do they have "priority" ?
From the start of the project, I have been confronted with the thorny issue of "literary value" and I have been unable to find the robust and universal criteria that would allow one to establish the "value" of the texts (that very same issue came to the fore with regard to words such as "African" and "novelist"). So, I took the decision to mention every book indicated to me, but included on a separate list called "Top priority reading" all the titles I (i.e., the person in charge of the website) found particularly interesting.
The "Unpublished texts"; on what basis did you choose them ? What were your objectives ? Why this space of time between their writing and publishing (online) ? How did you choose the writers or, how did writers get in touch with the website manager (in this case yourself) ? Did these texts get published on paper later on ? Do you, or the authors, get feed-back from readers/internet surfers ?
From the beginnings of the research, I have attempted to get additional information about the authors, to seek information above and beyond their texts, in order to better understand the context of their work and that of the books on hand. One thing I soon discovered was that the African continent was not short of talented women writers, but totally bereft of an effective network of local editors that could publish their work. Publishing opportunities were fledgeling 20 years ago, but now catastrophic, thus the decision to publish a few texts on our website. The full potential of web publishing for African authors remains to be evaluated from an African perspective. But notwithstanding the outcome of such an endeavour, the universe of the web should be wide open to the African literary community, at cost price: that is very cheaply (somewhat like email which is now readily available to anyone). The publication of texts on our website is open to all African women writers, yet we are quite selective and apply strict literary criteria (that is our own criteria with all the arbitrariness implied by individual evaluations !). I often get requests from third-parties interested in publishing some of the pieces and, as much as possible, I put them in touch with the authors, especially since the latter keep the copyright of the texts posted on the site.
Did the presence of these texts on Internet contribute to bringing them to light ? How can you say ?
Hundred of thousands of web surfers visit our pages and that provides some exposure for a number of authors. One only has to recall that 25 years ago, to keep a tally of known African women authors writing in French required only the fingers of one hand (and the word "known" here, meant known by a handful of literary specialists).
Why did you include a section "Scenario" which is empty ?
Good question ! Caali, fille du Saloum, i.e., the beginning of a scenario proposed to Senegalese Radio and television by Fatou Ndiaye Sow (1998) should have been included in this section. I do not know why it ended up in the section "Bonnes feuilles Advance proofs"; probably a wrong manoeuvre at some point. On a more general note, many African women writers have written for the cinema and including more titles in this section would be worthwhile.
What do you mean by "Bonnes feuilles" ? Why such a title which (to me) is image-enhancing and ill-defined ?
It brings me back to the issue of African women writers' major difficulty in getting published in Africa. Innumerable women writers are waiting for the hypothetical publication of their novels. The section "Bonnes feuilles Advance proofs" includes extracts of books that should be published, at least in theory, but for which publication has been abandoned or delayed for some obscure reason; just think of the novel "La Fourmilière", by the late Aïcha Fofana, which is all but lost after lying about for years in publishers' offices...
Some of the texts are English translations of pieces originally written in French (Scent of the rain; Ayolee's song), this on a "Francophone" website. How do you explain this peculiarity ?
Our university is an Anglophone university. This website is therefore an invitation to the English-speaking world, to our students, to embark on the discovery of a world that runs parallel to theirs, hence a basic translation of the authors' pages and a few translations of French texts into English. The translation of "Ayolee's song" is a good example. It came into being because a colleague working in the US mentioned the French version in class and one of her students translated the piece into English. It is interesting because it shows that the significance of a text written in French goes beyond the limits of the Francophone world. The divide between Anglophone and Francophone Africa is still very marked and much remains to be changed. French translations of English women writers begin to appear (and so too the other way around) and I wish to be able to add more titles to my list of African writers in translation.
Similarly, a text in Wolof with its translation into English.
The inclusion of a few pieces in African languages should alert our students (and the web-surfers who visit our website) to the fact that everywhere in the world and particularly in Francophone Africa a large variety of languages are thriving among family members and communities. That, despite the emphasis on official, academic or so called majority's languages.
How do you account for the very large number of poems by M. Bessomo ?
It is because Mrs Bessomo has sent poems very regularly for the past ten years.
October 25, 2004
Document Nr 2
New list of questions for Professor Jean-Marie Volet
Below my questions:
Who are you Mr. Volet (please give ample details, especially on the scientific/academic aspects) ?
After teaching for many years in primary and secondary schools in Switzerland,
I migrated to Australia where I completed a PhD. I then gained a Research
position at the University of Western Australia (ARC QEII Fellow) and worked
there for about ten years, before retiring some months ago. I remain associated
with the University in an honorary capacity and am still very much interested
in African literatures and so continue to update regularly the website "Lire les
femmes écrivains...". When I was working full time at UWA, I had to
split my time between my theoretical research on reading, the publication of
the academic journal "Mots Pluriels" [http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/MotsPluriels/]
and the updating of the site "Lire les femmes écrivains et les
The publication of "Mots Pluriels" did not continue after I retired and that represented possibly the biggest regret of my leaving. This entirely spontaneous project saw the light of day on a terrace in Douala, as I was chatting with Daniel Tchapda; it was in 1996, if my memory serves me truly. This new "ejournal" was launched shortly thereafter with the collaboration of some Camerounian and Ivoirian colleagues, including Tanella Boni to whom we are particularly indebted for her support. At a time (in the mid 1990s) when the Internet was hardly known, both in French and African Academic circles, the idea of launching, from Africa, a journal online that would allow academics from all over the world to share their views on a variety of literary matters belonged somewhat to the province of Utopia or science-fiction. Yet, the 24 issues published subsequently allowed this publication to gain international recognition by the academic world and it grew into a renowned interdisciplinary publication. The wide resource imbalance between founding members in terms of access to infrastructures and technology led me to take the role of Chief Editor, but throughout its life, the journal stuck to the fundamental principles that governed its creation : freedom of expression, consultation, free access and active participation of African scholars and especially women in every issue, not to mention a strict evaluation of each article by a well qualified committee in order to ensure top quality.
As far as it is concerned, the website "Lire les femmes..." had its origin in Australia, even though it also benefitted from the input of many overseas colleagues. The research carried out in the context of "Mots Pluriels" and "Lire les femmes" helped me to better identify the aims of my research on reading and I very much enjoyed pondering on the many ways different readers grasp, understand and conceptualise the texts they have in front of them [...].
In our last interview, you briefly mentioned Professor Beverley ORMEROD, especially her "paternity" of the site's creation. Could you say a few words about her? Did she contribute to the activities of the site ? Does she continue to do so ?
I'll send you separately a small biography that I wrote recently for the special issue of Essays in French literature that will be published in Beverley Ormerod Noakes's honour. [see text] Prof Ormerod's main research interest has been in the Caribbean literature. She always kept a benevolent interest in the site but did not contribute actively to its design and updating.
What became of your Department ?
The Department of French Studies was amalgamated with the Departments of German and Italian to form a School of European Languages which, in turn, was included in a larger administrative entity. Unfortunately, these restructures led to a severe reduction of teaching positions in the old Department and a marked reduction in the subjects offered and taught in the field of French literature.
What is the name of the site (I do not know if my question is relevant, but I feel the need to ask) ?
"Lire les femmes écrivains et les littératures africaines"
Did you design and put the site online ? If yes, did you do it alone ? Could you run me through the main steps of its development ? Did you encounter difficulties ? Of what kind ? What was the determinant in your technical choices, the presentation, etc. ?
I am forwarding separately a copy of the letter that was sent to some fifty women authors in 1996, at the start of the project. I also added a copy of the first "Home page" loaded on the web early in 1996. At that early stage of development, everything was based on trial and error plus guesswork. The Faculty counted very few web specialists and one had often to resort to improvisation, hence some bad decisions (such as that unnecessarily cumbersome URL address http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/AFLIT/Femechome.html. The evolution of computers, which were fast becoming speedier, more powerful and sophisticated, led also to a continuous revamping of the site. From time to time, I called on my daughter for help (as she worked in design and web programming) in order to jazz up the site and better its access. This said, a large number of assistants also contributed to the development and updating of the site over the years. Many other work commitments, especially the regular publication of "Mots Pluriels", did not allow me to spend as much time on to the site as I would have liked.
How does the site referencing work ? Could you mention the last five updates ?
The aim of the site is to provide readers with reliable information about
authors and books. Initially, the idea was to limit ourselves to the
information in our possession, but it rapidly became evident that material from
other sources could complement our own and usefully enlarge the content of the
site. A case in point was the "A-Z of African Studies on the Internet"
developed by my colleague Peter Limb at about the same time. Links with many
other web sites have been subsequently added (and sometimes withdrawn when
sites were disappearing). One of the last additions is the excellent database
"LITAF" proposed by Virginie Coulon. It was in the same spirit that I requested
permission from the Journal Amina to include in our site the literary
interviews that they were publishing.
Updating follows the rhythm of the new books' arrival on my desk. I am a collector at heart and I am always on the look-out for books published by African women writers in Africa and Europe. Many trips to Africa, Switzerland and France give me an opportunity to purchase many hundreds of volumes : these are the ones mentioned in the site. As far as the last updating of the site goes, your question comes just at the right time. I recently returned from a month's holiday with 25 kilos of books and about 30 new titles to include in the site; some were written by seasoned authors such as Werewere Liking, Marie N'Diaye and Bessora whose pages I updated very recently; some other books are by lesser-known authors, such as Adélaïde Fassinou whose early novel I tracked unsuccessfully for many years, (i.e., until its recent reprint) and Nafissatou Dia Diouf who had just published a lovely children's book; there were also books by authors I had never heard of, such as Atë-Mais Villedieu, Perpetue Nshimirimana, etc. Since my return, I have been going to uni once or twice a week and I think I make changes on the server on almost every occasion. Thinking about it, I also modified Mariama Ndoye's page a few days ago. She sent me an email telling me that she left the Ivory Coast and now lived in Tunisia; she also requested minor changes to her small biographical note. A similar request, received a few days before from Oumou Diarra who, by coincidence, indicated to me that she no longer lived in Tunisia and had moved to New York. And before that, a message from Gislaine Sathoud requesting a small addition to her biographical presentation... I also added some external links to Marie N'Diaye's page ... and a small window to Bernadette Dao Sanou's page in order to mention her last book (that I have still not been able to locate in any library); it never stops...
Did the site undergo many changes from its inception ? What kind of changes ? Who took the initiative (your own decisions, colleague suggestions, other users) ?
As mentioned above, this website has been in a state of flux from day one. On
the one hand, it was due to a string of technical improvements (computers,
browsers, etc.). On the other hand, these changes reflect the need to adapt to
a growing literary scene bursting with life and new authors.
Elements of the site that prove worthwhile, we keep. Those which cannot be handled satisfactorily, we try to change. For example, at some point in time, I asked a PhD student who later-on took a lecturing position in the UK to add Anglophone and Lusophone African writers to the site. The aim was to break stubborn linguistic dichotomies inherited from colonial days (a divide that is still very marked and can still be found today, even among airlines, but this is quite a different matter...), however, I was unable to carry on this expansion of the site when this collaborator left. It was already difficult for me to find the time to keep the French side of the project afloat and I soon realised that it would be just impossible to update the English and Portuguese pages as well. Thus the transfer of all these pages to England, on a separate site, for which I am no longer responsible.
I also tried to include pages listing relevant academic research and publications, but here again, it rapidly became obvious that it was far too demanding a task. On a brighter note, more links between authors' pages and external sites (indicating the date I consulted these pages on the web) have been added over the last couple of years.
Suggestions have come from a wide cross-section of people.
Who does host the site ? Where are the files archived ?
The site is hosted by the Arts Faculty, The University of Western Australia.
At a guess, how many pages would you need to print the whole content of the site on paper ?
Currently, the site comprises many thousands of pages, exactly how many, I don't know.
Did the launch of the site attract positive comments ? Criticisms ? What kind ?
At first, the main focus was our students and they were the prime addressees of the proposed resource. However, as it's turned out, many more people from outside the University began to access our pages and a stream of positive comments and encouragement started to flow. I cannot recall negative reactions, although I was asked on numerous occasions but it is not a negative comment why the site was restricted to women authors when they were so many outstanding male writers ? My answer, that could also be my motto, is "Strength through unity" and I am eagerly awaiting the day a colleague will in Africa hopefully design a new site proposing a comprehensive overview of all the African authors, irrespective of gender.
When was the website designed/put live on the web ? Did you have different alternatives, options, preoccupations, hope ?
The exact date, I cannot remember, but I know that I drafted the first pages in 1995 and put a temporary/experimental site on the web early in 1996.
Can you sense some interest from African people (namely students, academic researchers)? What kind of interest ? Approximately, what proportion of the reaction comes from African people ?
A steady stream of supportive comments coming from Africa and the rest of the world has lead me not to worry much about who reads our pages. Nonetheless, mid 2003, the Faculty IT Services provided me with figures showing more than 100 000 requests for articles published in "Mots Pluriels" : this over a period of a few months. According to the same set of figures, the site "Lire les femmes ..." was also accessed by a staggering number of people. I don't known anything beyond that.
The site includes numerous interviews by women authors published in the famous magazine Amina. Why this choice of Amina's interviews, and exclusively these ? What preoccupation does this diffusion answer ? In other words, what is their interest ? What form does your collaboration with Amina take ?
Although Amina is not a academic publication, it was, to my knowledge,
the first journal to show a genuine interest in the emergence of African women
writers. This journal played a key role in opening its columns to these women,
in offering them a way to express themselves. At the end of the 1980s, I read
at the Bibliothèque Nationale all the literary interviews
proposed by Amina from the beginning of the journal's publication and
these texts struck me as very interesting. They put women's writing in a new
light and facilitated the understanding of texts that were beginning to be
noticed outside Africa. Thus asking Amina to be associated with the
project became a matter of prority when the website was designed. I am
confident that the addition of Amina's interviews to the site has been
one of the keys to its success and popularity. These interviews have provided
readers irrespective of their country of residence an opportunity to link
books to their socio-cultural context, a connection without which it would be
difficult to make sense of the text.
True, a large majority of the proposed interviews are Amina's, but we also have some interviews from other sources on the site.
If I am not mistaken, all the authors published do not have their picture on the site; similarly, all the authors with their pictures do not necessarily have their texts. Why ?
At the beginning, I included a very limited number of pictures (they took far to much time to download on the early computers). Nowadays I am more liberal. The page "Family snapshot" has been modified and updated a few times.
Do you know how many Francophone literary sites were online when yours was created ?
I don't think there were that many; Clicknet (because I remember asking them for permission to use their page "Protection des droits d'auteurs") and possibly a couple of other sites in Canada and the US: frankly, I cannot remember...
Extracts from : Gabriel YANDJOU, Littérature négroafricaine francophone et nouveaux medias
la question de la visibilité
Mémoire de DEA, Université de Cergy-Pontoise, 2004.