Afro Literature ☀ 

Camara Laye

l’étudiant noir

It is officially September, the month of the start of the school year for many of our young Afro-descendants who, for the most part, have already returned to school. This is the perfect opportunity to look at an African author who has written about the merits of education and school in his first novel, “L’enfant noir”. He is none other than Camara Laye.

Camara Laye was born on 1 January 1928 in Kouroussa in the east of present-day Guinea. Born into a family of blacksmiths, he had a happy childhood surrounded by his family. At the age of fifteen, he had to fly to Conakry to study at the Georges Poiret school. He then turned to mechanics and obtained, with some difficulty, his mechanic’s CAP. Wishing to perfect his knowledge, he decided to go to France to continue his studies.

Admitted to the École Centrale d’Ingénierie Automobile in Argenteuil, Laye passed his mechanics’ certificate with flying colours. It was around this time that his literary ambitions began to take shape. Despite his many odd jobs, he still found time to take courses at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM) and the Collège technique de l’aéronautique et de construction automobile. On the side, he also worked on what was to be his first book: “L’enfant noir“.

Published in France in 1953, “L’enfant noir” narrates with finesse and nostalgia the childhood of its author, and by extension that of thousands of young African children. Indeed, it contains many elements that characterise the early years of many children who grew up on the black continent. Carelessness, joviality, friendship, love of one’s own, the crucial stage of circumcision, but above all school life and education, points on which the author places particular emphasis, through the hero’s decision (and therefore his own) to leave for France to study.

The autobiography, which is now taught in many schools in Africa and Europe, received the Charles Veillon Prize in 1954 and was even adapted for the cinema in 1995. Camara went on to write other novels such as “Le Maître de la parole” (1978). He was also a senior civil servant and later a researcher in Guinea and Senegal. He died on 4 February 1980 in Dakar.

Marc-Emmanuel Adjou

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