Category Archives: Zobel Biography

New articles on Zobel


This project has now been running for two years.

In addition to regularly updating the blog, I’ve appeared on TV, radio and in the UK and French Caribbean press, to report on my progress and most recent findings.

I’m currently preparing my book on Zobel – scholarly books or ‘monographs’ (a scholarly book written by one author, rather than a team of authors) require several years of research, and it’s exciting to now be at the stage where the manuscript is taking shape.

In the meantime, two other shorter pieces of my research have just been published. These were commissioned by The Literary Encyclopedia, an online resource which provides up-to-date 2500-word profiles of literary authors, works and topics. Here’s how it describes iteslf online:

“The Literary Encyclopedia is a constantly evolving and updating repository of authoritative reference work about literary and cultural history. All our articles are solicited by invitation from specialist scholars in higher education institutions all over the world, refereed and approved by subject editors in our Editorial Board. The LE is thus uniquely selective, reliable and authoritative. Its online format allows for rapid publication and frequent updating of articles; its integrated digital resources (author life-chronologies, customisable timelines, thematic or course-oriented bookshelves, related article clusters, critical bibliographies) respond dynamically to teaching and learning demands.” (source:

I hope that these two articles will be of help to students and scholars, and anyone else with a keen interest in Zobel!

2016 Louise Hardwick, ‘Joseph Zobel’, The Literary Encyclopedia. Volume 4.1.2: Francophone Writing and Culture of Central America and the Caribbean. First published 06 June 2016

2016 Louise Hardwick, La Rue Cases-Nègres, The Literary Encyclopedia. Volume 4.1.2: Francophone Writing and Culture of Central America and the Caribbean. First published 06 June 2016


2015 – Zobel’s Centenary

Happy New Year! Bonne année!

2015 is the year of the centenary of Joseph Zobel’s birth, on 26th April  1915.

I’m really looking forward to taking part in events marking this centenary throughout the year.

To celebrate the beginning of his centenary year, I’m posting a text about my own ‘first meeting’ with Zobel.

During Martinican fieldwork in 2013, I was lucky enough to meet Mme Raphaëlle Bouville at the Médiathèque in Rivière-Salée. She had produced a wonderful display on Zobel, bringing his literature to life for local readers of all ages. Raphaëlle asked me to contribute a text on Zobel so that school children in the Rivière-Salée area would understand my perspective on his literature… and how much his work is appreciated by readers all over the world. Bonne lecture! Happy reading!

Ma rencontre avec Joseph Zobel

Ma rencontre avec Joseph Zobel est une rencontre littéraire. Elle m’a transportée de ma vie quotidienne en Angleterre pour me projeter dans un nouveau monde: la Martinique. Le premier de ses livres que j’ai lu, c’était Laghia de la mort. Grâce à ce texte, j’ai découvert ce que c’est, un « laghia », cette lutte entre deux hommes, rythmée par le tambour. Et le conte ‘Le Syllabaire’, qui parle de l’importance de l’école, institution qui peut nous ouvrir de meilleurs lendemains. Institution qui reste, hélas, hors de portée pour beaucoup d’enfants à travers le monde. C’est cette même thématique que j’ai retrouvée chez La Rue Cases-Nègres, son magnifique récit d’enfance.

L’importanchardwick-childhood-caribbean161x240e de l’enfance chez Zobel et d’autres auteurs antillais m’a inspirée à écrire une thèse doctorale à l’Université d’Oxford, thèse récemment transformée en livre, Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean (2013).

Avec mes étudiants à l’Université de Birmingham, nous faisons la connaissance des Antilles françaises à travers les très beaux textes de Joseph Zobel. C’est une lecture qui nous sensibilise aux grands problèmes de l’humanité: l’exploitation de l’homme par l’homme, la nécessité de respecter son environnement et l’importance de la famille. Comme l’a dit l’écrivain guadeloupéen, Maryse Condé, ‘la lecture de Joseph Zobel, plus que des discours théoriques, m’a ouvert les yeux.’[1]

Malheureusement, je n’ai jamais pu rencontrer M. Zobel en personne, mais je prends plaisir à le retrouver à chaque fois que j’ouvre un de ses livres.


[1] Maryse Condé, Le Coeur à rire et à pleurer (1999)

3 months in… and some thoughts on Japan

I’ve been blogging about Zobel and my activities for three months now. It’s really encouraging to see that the site has had hits from all over the world!

I’ve received great feedback from Zobel’s daughter, Jenny, and the Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau. I’d like to encourage any other readers to please leave a comment, and help me develop this blog into a helpful tool for others out there with an interest in Martinican literature.

In an unexpected twist, the blog has received over 50 visits from Japan! After I spoke at a Round Table at the Toulouse La Novela public festival, a retired Physics professor in the audience, Jean Léotin, contacted me about a conference he was organising in Martinique.

The prestigious 5th International Symposium on Terahertz Nanoscience took place 1-5 December 2014 in Martinique:

Prof. Léotin felt my work could help his conference delegates to understand the history and culture of the island they were visiting, and kindly added a link to my blog to the conference homepage.

Delegates came from all over the world, with many from Japan (previous Symposia had been held in Japan).

It’s a development I could never have envisaged, but perhaps it’s particularly fitting, as from the late 1960s, Joseph Zobel developed a very strong interest in Japan and Japanese culture (as related in a newspaper article).

As a young student, he had dreamed of studying Art and Architecture, but was refused a colonial scholarship to study a subject which the authorities deemed ‘unsuitable’ for a young man of his social origin, an episode recounted in the semi-autobiographical novel La Fête à Paris, 1953. Remarkably, in his later life, it was the discovery of Japanese art which finally enabled Zobel to pursue this interest. He became trained in the floral art of Ikebana and the art of Shiatsu massage, in addition to studying Japanese garden design.

My project will develop a more thorough exploration of Japanese influences in Zobel’s later work, demonstrating that he is a more exciting, complex, transnational author than critics have previously allowed.

Exploring Joseph Zobel/Autour de Joseph Zobel

The French Caribbean author Joseph Zobel (1915-2006) is best-known for his childhood memoir La Rue Cases-Nègres which was published in 1950 in the original French, and translated into English as Black Shack Alley by Keith Q. Warner in 1979. Zobel’s clear and accessible prose has brought the French Caribbean to life for many generations of readers across the world:

RCN book coverBlack Shack Alley trans

The book was adapted into the prize-winning film Rue Cases-Nègres by Euzhan Palcy in 1983 (English title: Sugar Cane Alley), and it remains the only film adaptation of a Martinican text to date. The film is available in numerous languages and has played a vital role in raising global awareness of the French Caribbean by bringing iconic characters, sights and sounds to cinema and TV screens.

Rue_cases_negres film

Yet despite his status as a canonical French Caribbean author, little is known about Zobel’s wider publications and international career. He published novels, short story collections and poetry, and lived in the Caribbean, Africa and France, where he interacted with the leading thinkers of the Negritude movement. He became a radio broadcaster in Africa, released a record of poetry, and in his later life, became fascinated by Japanese art.

This blog aims to raise awareness of Zobel’s work by bringing him to new audiences in the UK and internationally. It is part of a wider academic research project into the life and work of Joseph Zobel, funded between 2014-2016 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom. The project is just one of the cultural initiatives launched under the “Translating Cultures” Research Theme, which has its own blog by Professor Charles Forsdick: 

Please enjoy using this blog to learn about Zobel and the French Caribbean, and feel free to leave feedback via the page “Questions and Comments” – this will help shape the blog’s development!

Almost there/On y est presque!

It’s almost October, when the project officially begins!

There is a lot about Zobel already on the internet – the best starting points in French are

– the wonderful Potomitan pages:

– the fabulous Ile en Ile website hosted by City University New York:

The best English introduction is probably the obituary by James Ferguson, published in The Guardian:

Scroll down to the archives to follow the project’s development!

* * *

Le projet commence officiellement en octobre. On y est presque !

Il existe déjà beaucoup de renseignements sur Zobel sur Internet – pour le meilleur point de départ en français voir

– le merveilleux site Potomitan:

– le fabuleux site « Ile en Ile » de City University New York :

La meilleure introduction en anglais est sans doute la nécrologie écrite par James Ferguson qui a paru dans le quotidien national The Guardian :

Pour suivre le développement du projet, descendez jusqu’aux archives en bas de l’écran.