Category Archives: about zobel project

Visiting Maryse Condé and Richard Philcox

Recently, I was lucky enough to see Maryse Conde and Richard Philcox in London. Maryse was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, and we talked about her recent work, including Mets et Merveilles which has just been published.

We also discussed my project on Zobel. Maryse and Richard remembered meeting Zobel in Africa, although they did not know each other well.

In her childhood memoir, Le Coeur à rire et à pleurer (1999) / Tales from the Heart (trans), Maryse’s first encounter with  Zobel’s literature is a pivotal episode which I really enjoy teaching to the students on my University course. After having read La Rue Cases-Nègres with me first, it is always interesting to see how they react to Maryse’s own discovery of the text. In the same book, Maryse makes a comment which has inspired me to delve deeper into Zobel’s work and life: “La lecture de Joseph Zobel, plus que des discours théoriques, m’a ouvert les yeux” (p. 103)

I won’t be updating the blog for a few weeks now, so I’ll leave you with some video material. In 2010, Maryse and Richard accepted my invitation to give Guest Lectures at the University of Birmingham, and you can watch all of Maryse’s lecture by clicking here:

Paris Book Fair / Salon du Livre

A quick post this week as I’m preparing to leave for fieldwork in Martinique!

So I’ll share some more photos of the Salon du Livre in Paris – the event welcomes 200 000 visitors per year, and the Martinique Stand had programmed a series of events around Joseph Zobel, in which I was lucky enough to participate! This was a real opportunity to change the public perception of Zobel, in the presence of the French Minister for Overseas, George Pau-Langevin.

Firstly, the official launch of a new graphic novel adaptation of Zobel’s first novel, Diab’-là, by Roland Monpierre:

DSC00038  DSC00098DSC00100

Roland was kind enough to invite me to take part in an interview on the Stand Martinique so that I could discuss the international significance of the novel and his adaptation.

Special thanks go to Patricia Thiery who organised and co-ordinated all of these events and who runs the group “Passions Partagées” – I was honoured to collaborate with them!

Here are other pictures of events at the Salon du Livre with Jenny Zobel, Euzhan Palcy, Lyne-Rose Beuze, Jean-Michel Martial, Jean-Marc Rosier and Julienne Salvat – I will blog on this in more detail when I return from Martinique!

DSC00164 DSC00094 DSC00097 DSC00082DSC00123 DSC00157George-Pau Langevin in our audience

This Academic Life – March

This month has been pretty much dominated by Salon du Livre preparations and the event itself, which was fantastic. It was extremely valuable to discuss my work on Zobel during a public debate with key cultural figures who are also interested in him from Martinique and France. You know it has been a good discussion when, unprompted, a member of the audience asks if they can take the microphone and respond to the comments we were making!

This represented a real leap forward for my work to change the public understanding of Joseph Zobel and Caribbean literature more generally. My Round Table comments drew some very positive and helpful feedback, and I’m now in the final stages of planning more research and public engagement activities in Martinique…

I’ve included the write-up of my Salon du Livre activities which appeared on the University of Birmingham news pages below:

Paris Book Fair

Louise Hardwick was an invited speaker at the prestigious Paris Book Fair this weekend, and participated in a Round Table debate on Joseph Zobel’s legacy.

The debate was organised by the Ministry for Overseas France in collaboration with a French group of cultural advisors, museum curators, writers, artists and academics who are working on Joseph Zobel. The event was a major milestone in Louise’s programme of activities in the UK, France, Martinique and the USA as an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow.

At the Round Table, Louise spoke alongside Professor Romuald Fonkoua from the Sorbonne, artist Roland Monpierre who has just launched a graphic novel adaptation of one of Zobel’s novels, and members of the Zobel family, Jenny Zobel and Charlotte Zobel, who are actively involved in exploring Joseph Zobel’s legacy.

Louise discussed her current AHRC-funded research project on Zobel, which will lead to a complete reassessment of Zobel’s many novels, short stories, poetry and other cultural output (including painting, sculpture and radio broadcasts), giving rise to a more complete understanding of the impact of this prolific author who played a major cultural role in Martinique, Senegal and France.

The French Minister for Overseas France, George Pau-Langevin, was present in the audience, as was the President of the Martinican Cultural Commission, Yvette Galot, who praised the Round Table debate for improving the public understanding of Zobel’s significance, commenting that “it is essential to continue this vital work on Zobel’s heritage.”

Zobel’s best-known novel La Rue Cases-Nègres and its film adaptation Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy are both widely studied across the Anglophone world, from the USA to Australia. Euzhan Palcy, who is based in New York, and Martinican Head of Museums Lyne-Rose Beuze were also present at the Salon du Livre, and provided their invaluable perspectives on Zobel’s legacy.

Preparing for Paris

This week, I’m heading to Paris to speak at the Paris Salon du Livre (Paris Book Fair).

The Salon du Livre is a fantastic cultural event which brings together leading authors from all over the world who write in French and other languages, for five days of debates and talks.

I’ll be speaking as part of a Round Table on Joseph Zobel alongside colleagues from the Sorbonne, authors, and members of Zobel’s family… more to follow next week!

In other news, my colleagues at the University of Nottingham have kindly added my blog post on Joseph Zobel and WW1 to their website:

Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean

hardwick-childhood-caribbean161x240I’m currently working on a book on Joseph Zobel, and as those ideas take form, I’ve been blogging about some of the directions I’ll take. If you’re interested in this, take a look at the pages on Ecocriticism and WW1 and the French Caribbean.

But what sparked my interest in Joseph Zobel?

I wrote an AHRC-funded doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford, which I then adapted into the book Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean which was published in 2013. In this project, I discussed récits d’enfance, or childhood narratives, by a range of authors, including Zobel. In the scope of this project, I examined La Rue Cases-Nègres, La Fête à Paris (later republished as Quand la neige aura fondu) and Laghia de la mort.

So if you’re looking for academic criticism of Zobel which has already been published, here’s the write-up of that book:

Louise Hardwick, Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013)

The book  draws attention to a neglected body of récits d’enfance by contemporary bestselling, prize-winning Francophone Caribbean authors Patrick Chamoiseau, Maryse Condé, Gisèle Pineau, Daniel Maximin, Raphaël Confiant and Dany Laferrière, while also offering new readings of texts by Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, Joseph Zobel, Françoise Ega, Michèle Lacrosil, Maurice Virassamy and Mayotte Capécia.

This book examines a major modern turn in Francophone Caribbean literature towards the récit d’enfance, or childhood memoir, and asks why this occurred post-1990. Texts are read in the context of recent changes in public policy and education policy concerning the commemoration of slavery and colonialism both in France and at a global level, including the UNESCO project ‘La Route de l’esclave’, the ‘loi Taubira’ and the ‘Comité pour la mémoire de l’esclavage’.

The study proposes an innovative methodological paradigm with which to read postcolonial childhoods in a comparative framework from areas as diverse as the Caribbean, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly the Haitian diaspora in North America.

Find out about my other recent publications at:

Reviews of Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean

Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean is the first book-length study of a remarkable literary phenomenon that emerged in the last decade of the twentieth century in the French Antilles and Haiti – the autobiographical narrative. Louise Hardwick expertly analyses this relatively understudied genre which uses childhood narrative in as much a politically as an aesthetically subversive manner. Her clear, meticulous and informed study reveals the ways in which these narratives of childhood, driven by a devoir de mémoire, relate individual memory to collective identity. This is a welcome critical work that makes a major contribution to francophone as well as to postcolonial literary studies.   Professor J. Michael Dash, New York University

… a study that is a pleasure to read … Hardwick’s meticulous research, balanced approach and lucid prose merit serious consideration from specialists of the region. Professor Françoise Lionnet, University of California Los Angeles

In an impressive series of close readings, Louise Hardwick analyses the genre of autobiographical childhood narratives … These innovative readings constitute the volume’s tour de force: in inaugurating the critical field of récits d’enfance studies, it renews our approaches to Francophone Caribbean literature in general. Dr Malik Noël-Ferdinand, Université des Antilles-Guyane

Louise Hardwick’s excellent study is a most welcome contribution to the field … With its beautiful style and pedagogical structure, it is a didactic masterpiece. Dr Christina Kullberg, Uppsala University, Sweden

This Academic Life – Feb 2015

It’s the end of another month, and time for a brief update on the more ‘traditional’ academic activities I’ve been up to – that is to say, the activities which will lead to academic publications, presentations and public engagement. Drawing on the research I carried out in Paris over December 2014-January 2015, I’ve been drafting the introduction to my book on Zobel. So I’ve been doing lots of writing (or rather typing), trying to synthesize the information I’ve gathered. The key challenge is to emphasise what kinds of new insights my research can provide into Joseph Zobel’s literature and career.

Another strand of my AHRC project involves ‘public engagement and impact’, and I’m currently concentrating on ways to bring my research to audiences who are not academics. I’m preparing for a visit to Paris in March, and to Martinique in April, and am in contact with colleagues in museums, libraries and schools. This will help me to play my part in improving the  public understanding of Zobel in Martinique and France more generally.

So when I’m not drafting my introduction, I’m sending and receiving lots of emails to co-ordinate activities with my French contacts in Paris and Martinique, and I’m excited to see how this strand of my work will develop.

Willard Wigan: Through the Eye of a Needle

think small to think big

 think small to think big

 think small to think big

think small to think big

think small to think big

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Joseph Zobel was a keen artist and sculptor who was inspired by global culture from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and even Asia – he was trained in the Japanese art of Ikebana flower arrangement.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a fantastic exhibition by Willard Wigan at the Library of Birmingham. Like Zobel, Willard considers his art international and hopes that it will be accessible to everyone. He makes the most amazing microscopic art – so small that it fits in the eye of a needle! To do this, he has found a way to slow his body down so he can work to the rhythm of his body’s heartbeat to make his microscopic incisions.

Willard was there on the day, and kept us amused with stories of his childhood in Wolverhampton and the development of his career. Several of his pieces are nods to his Caribbean roots, including Usain Bolt in his traditional ‘thunderbolt’ pose, and an absolutely beautiful hummingbird feeding on flower nectar.

Willard reminded us that nothing in our world is too small to matter.

This made me think of how many references there are to ‘petit pays’ (literally meaning ‘small country’) in Francophone music – and not just from the Caribbean. A beautiful song by Cap Verdean singer Cesária Evora, called Petit Pays, which has a French chorus, is now my earworm.

Inspirational stuff!


In January, I blogged about TED talks – you can see Willard’s TED talk, including images of his art, here:

Martinique and World War 1

DSCF3329On Saturday 31st January, I attended an AHRC-funded event on Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, held at the Library of Birmingham.

The Library of Birmingham opened in 2013 and is one of the city’s flagship buildings and a really important community space.


This photo shows the library shortly before it was completed – the white boards at the bottom of the building have now been removed.


It was fantastic to meet a range of speakers from community groups in the Midlands area and to learn more about figures such as footballer Walter Tull, who fought and died in the First World War. I discussed my work on Zobel, and the event has spurred me on to think about the French Caribbean and WW1, particularly in the light of the WW1 Centenary. I’ve created a new page with more information.

This Academic Life (Jan 2015)

As the project develops, I thought I’d introduce a monthly round-up of my more ‘traditional’ research activities – that is to say, the activities which involve me doing lots of reading, writing, listening and thinking, and will lead to future research publications and funding bids… in turn, this also influences the way I teach topics to my students.

I ended 2014 with a research visit to Paris, to undertake archival research in a number of libraries. Thanks to online databases, I had a pretty good idea of what would be of interest, but as ever, being ‘sur place’/on the spot always throws up extra, unexpected leads. The hours of reading and investigating new sources – printed and audiovisual – have helped me move forward with my own writing. I even queued outside for over two hours to get into the Centre Pompidou Library! It was 2nd January, and it appeared that every student in Paris had headed there to revise for their start-of-year exams… It’s the first time I’ve encountered a library with a one-in, one-out policy! Once I finally got inside, I made my Zobel enquiries and also visited the excellent exhibition on Marguerite Duras.

expo-haiti-creation-artistique_0Another fantastic exhibition was the Haïti: Deux siècles de création artistique retrospective at the Grand Palais, where I booked in for a guided tour to get the most out of the display. Jean-Baptiste_Belley,_Girodet


I teach the Haitian Revolution as part of a Second Year module, so this was a fascinating opportunity to find out more about Haiti and to think about new ways of teaching Haitian history and culture. I was pleased to spot a picture which is often reproduced on book covers: the striking portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley, representative of Saint-Domingue and first black man to be made part of the Convention, one of the interim governing bodies during the French Revolution. The portrait is by the (male) French painter Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (who took the additional names of his adopted parent). I was also struck by Sasha Huber’s intricate portraits of Papa and Baby Doc, created using staples. The final effect is an astonishing reflection on the violence these men inflicted.

You can see images from the exhibition and hear exhibitors speaking about them (in French) here:

Back in the UK, I was pleased to receive copies of my latest publications:

  •  a special issue which I guest-edited with Alessandro Corio of the International Journal of Francophone Studies, featuring articles by Charlotte Baker, Alessandro Corio, Judith Misrahi-Barak, Michael Wiedorn, C. J. Bretillon and Dominic Thomas

Full references are on the new Publications page.




Using TED to improve French and Translation skills

(Version française ci-dessous)

Thanks to your feedback, I know that this blog is being used by students and French teachers from all over the world. My aim isn’t only to improve your knowledge of Zobel, but also to create a space, or even a tool, to promote modern language learning.

After a quick look at the TED website, it seems that most TED talks are in English. However, lots of them have subtitles in French (and other languages).

In an innovative move, TED is inviting the public to participate in subtitling its talks. The site offers free training to get you started, and all work is re-read by experienced subtitlers: a great idea which really harnesses the potential of mass media. To find out more, click here:

And let’s not forget TEDx, live events which reproduce the TED experience. These are all official, local, independently-organised events which are non-profit making, and I blogged about my visit to TEDxOxford last week.

There are lots of TEDx talks in French – for example, the talks given at TEDxParis, many of which may well interest readers of this blog. To name but two:

The Senegalese sculptor and artist Ousmane Sow discusses the men who have marked his life.

The French biologist Joël de Rosnay considers the future potential of the internet.

And what about TEDxMartinique…? According to an interview with Marc Lesdema, an event is being planned for 2015… fingers crossed!


Grâce à vos feedbacks, j’apprends que ce blog est consulté par des étudiants et des professeurs de français un peu partout dans le monde.

Mon objectif n’est pas seulement d’approfondir vos connaissances sur Zobel, mais aussi de créer un espace, voire un outil pour promouvoir l’apprentissage des langues vivantes.

Après un rapide tour du site web TED, il me semble que la plupart des conférences « TED » sont en anglais. Pourtant, bon nombre ont des sous-titres en français (et en d’autres langues).

Dans une démarche innovante, TED invite le public à participer au travail de sous-titrage. Le site propose une formation gratuite et le travail est relu par des traducteurs expérimentés : une idée sympathique qui exploite le potentiel du web. Pour en savoir plus :

N’oublions pas TEDx, conférences locales qui reproduisent l’expérience TED. Ces événements sont tous officiels, locaux, indépendants, auto organises et à but non lucratif. J’ai posté sur ma visite à TEDxOxford la semaine dernière.

Il existe beaucoup de conférences données dans le cadre de TEDx qui sont en français : par ex., les conférences de TEDxParis, dont plusieurs pourraient intéresser les lecteurs de ce blog :

L’artiste sculpteur Ousmane Sow discute des grands hommes qui ont marqué sa vie.

Joël de Rosnay, biologiste français, nous propose un voyage vers le futur du web

Et qu’en est-il de TEDxMartinique… ? D’après un entretien avec Marc Lesdema, un événement se prépare pour 2015… on croise les doigts !