Classics – Fiction – Présence Africaine

Aimé Césaire – Cahier d’un retour au pays natal

– Poetry –

Summary: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (first published in 1939, with two revised editions in 1947 and the current final edition in 1956), variously translated as Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, Return to My Native Land, or Journal of a Homecoming, is a book-length poem by Martinican writer Aimé Césaire, considered his masterwork, that mixes poetry and prose to express his thoughts on the cultural identity of black Africans in a colonial setting.

According to Bonnie Thomas, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal was a turning point in French Caribbean literature: “Césaire’s groundbreaking poem laid the foundations for a new literary style in which Caribbean writers came to reject the alienating gaze of the Other in favour of their own Caribbean interpretation of reality.”

André Breton called the poem “nothing less than the greatest lyrical monument of our times.”

Publication: Présence Africaine, 1956
Language: French
Rights: World rights to Présence Africaine
Genre: Poetry
Extent: 92 p.
Most recent translations: Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spain), Catalan, Japanese…

Bio: Aimé Césaire (26 June 1913 – 17 April 2008) was a French poet, author, and politician. He was “one of the founders of the Négritude movement in Francophone literature” and coined the word négritude in French. He founded the Parti progressiste martiniquais in 1958, and served in the French National Assembly from 1945 to 1993 and as President of the Regional Council of Martinique from 1983 to 1988. His works include the book-length poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939), Une Tempête, a response to Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, and Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism), an essay describing the strife between the colonizers and the colonized. His works have been translated into many languages.

Link to the book on Présence Africaine: Here

Rights inquiries: Here


© Présence Africaine

Notebook of a Return to My Native Land / Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, trans. Mireille Rosello with Annie Pritchard (1995)

For it is not true that the work of man is finished,
That we have nothing more to do in the world,
That we are just parasites in this world,
That it is enough for us to walk in step with the world,
For the work of man is only just beginning and it remains to conquer all,
The violence entrenched in the recess of his passion,
And no race holds a monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength, and
There is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory.

Williams Sassine – Wirriyamu

– Novel –


Summary: In this novel, Williams Sassine recounts the details of an actual massacre in the village of Viramo at the hands of the Portuguese soldiers in December 1972, in which he focuses on the character of the black-haired, black-eyed Kondillo, whose aim is to kill and crucify him.

Audrey Small: “A violent and violated rural landscape becomes emblematic of a specific traumatic event occurring within the time frame of the novel and of contemporary political reality.”

New English edition forthcoming in 2024.

Publication: Présence Africaine, 1976
Language: French
Rights: World rights to Présence Africaine
Genre: Novel
Extent: 207 p.
Translations: English, German, Slovene

Bio: Williams Sassine (1944 in Kankan, Guinea – February 9, 1997 in Conakry, Guinea) was a Guinean novelist who wrote in French. His father was Lebanese Christian and his mother was a Guinean of Muslim heritage. Sassine was an expatriate African writer in France after leaving Guinea when it received independence under Sékou Touré. As a novelist he wrote of marginalized characters, but he became more optimistic on Touré’s death. His 1979 novel Le jeune homme de sable has been regarded as among the best 20th-century African novels. As an editor he remained critical of Touré as chief editor for the satirical paper Le Lynx. Some of Sassine’s works have been translated into English, Spanish, German, Slovene, Arabic, Polish, Turkish and Russian.

Link to the book on Présence Africaine: Here

Rights inquiries: Here



© Présence Africaine

Ken Bugul – Le baobab fou

– Novel –

Summary: Abandoned by her mother and sent to live with relatives in Dakar, the author tells of being educated in the French colonial school system, where she comes gradually to feel alienated from her family and Muslim upbringing, growing enamored with the West. Academic success gives her the opportunity to study in Belgium, which she looks upon as a “promised land.” There she is objectified as an exotic creature, however, and she descends into promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, and, eventually, prostitution. Her return to Senegal, which concludes the book, presents her with a past she cannot reenter, a painful but necessary realization as she begins to create a new life there.

As Norman Rush wrote in the New York Times Book Review, “One comes away from Le Baobab fou reluctant to take leave of a brave, sympathetic, and resilient woman.”

The book was chosen by QBR Black Book Review as one of Africa’s 100 best books of the twentieth century.


Publication: Présence Africaine 1991
Language: French
Rights: World rights to Présence Africaine
Genre: Debut novel
Extent: 224 p.
Translations: English, Spanish, German, Dutch

Bio: Ken Bugul, which in Wolof means: « the person no one wants », is the pseudonym used by writer Mariètou Mbaye Biléoma who was born in 1947 in Ndoucoumane in Senegal. Following her primary school studies in her village, Mariètou Mbaye undertook her secondary schooling at the Lycée Malick Sy at Thiès, after which she spent a year at the University of Dakar from where she obtained a bursary that enabled her to continue her studies in Belgium. From 1986 to 1993, Mariètou Mbaye was an International Official, based successively in Nairobi (Kenya), Brazzaville (Congo), Lomé (Togo) as Head of Programs within the African Region of the IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation), a NGO concerned with projects related to family planning. Her novel Riwan ou le chemin de sable [Riwan or the sandy track] was awarded the 1999 prestigious literary prize Grand Prix littéraire de l’Afrique noire. Her work has been translated into many languages: English, Italian, Dutch, German, Polish, Spanish, Slovene.

Link to the book on Présence Africaine: Here

Rights inquiries: Here



© Georges Seguin (creative commons)

Sembene Ousmane – Le docker noir

– Debut Novel –

Summary: Set in the 1950s in Marseille, this book tells of Diaw Falla, a docker for whom work exists merely to finance his true obsession – his writing. As his novel nears completion, he meets Ginette Tontisanne whose good connections ensure he is published – but, to his dismay, under her name…

The black docker is a long cry of bitterness in which a passionate desire for justice erupts. It is also a warning, a first-hand document on the lives of black minorities lost in major European cities.

French edition to be reissued in 2023, for Sembene Ousmane’s 100th year birth anniversary.

Publication: Présence Africaine, 1956
Language: French
Rights: World rights to Présence Africaine
Genre: Debut novel
Extent: 218 p.
Translations: English, Russian, Turkish, Serbian

Bio: Ousmane Sembène (1 January 1923 or 8 January 1923 – 9 June 2007), often credited in the French style as Sembène Ousmane in articles and reference works, was a Senegalese film director, producer and writer. The Los Angeles Times considered him one of the greatest authors of Africa and he has often been called the “father of African film”. Descended from a Serer family through his mother from the line of Matar Sène, Ousmane Sembène was particularly drawn to Serer religious festivals especially the Tuur festival.

Link to the book on Présence Africaine: Here

Rights inquiries: Here


© Présence Africaine

David Mandessi Diop (Senegal) – Coups de pilon

-Poetry, 1956 –

Summary: It is rare that the control of the verb and the depth of the emotion are combined, that the distance and the gift agree. In this paradoxical harmony, the best is revealed. The word of David Diop testifies to this admirable and difficult place. David Diop knew Africa by heart, in its depths, in its living sources, in its people, that is, in its truth. He knew it in its fragility and its caricatures, avatars of an Africa sold and exploited at the markets of history. The poet lived this tension, heavy with this suffering, but carried forward by the hope that the vitality of the peoples of Africa inspires. This dual postulation marks his approach as a committed Negro-African writer, lucid and rigorous in his fight. That’s why these beautiful and proud texts remain so close to us, fraternal and always exemplary.

English translation to be reissued in 2023.

Publication: Présence Africaine, 1956
Language: French
Rights: World rights to Présence Africaine
Genre: Poetry
Extent: 88 p.
Translations: English, Italian

Bio: David Mandessi Diop (9 July 1927 – 29 August 1960) was a French West African poet known for his contribution to the Négritude literary movement. His work reflects his anti-colonial stance. Diop started writing poems while he was still in school, and his poems started appearing in Présence Africaine since he was just 15. Diop lived his life transitioning constantly between France and West Africa, from childhood onwards. While in Paris, Diop became a prominent figure in Négritude literature. His work is seen as a condemnation of colonialism, and detest towards colonial rule. Like many Négritude authors of the time, Diop hoped for an independent Africa. Within the movement he was recognized as “the voice of the people without voice”. He died in the crash of Air France Flight 343 in the Atlantic Ocean off Dakar, Senegal, at the age of 33 on 29 August 1960. His one collection of poetry, Coups de pilon, came out from Présence Africaine in 1956; it was posthumously published in English as Hammer Blows, translated and edited by Simon Mondo and Frank Jones (African Writers Series, 1975). It was subsequently published and translated in Italian in 1979 at Jaca Book (Canti di lotta e di speranza, translation Cristina Brambilla).

Link to the book on Présence Africaine: Here

Rights inquiries: Here

© David Mandessi Diop Estate


(translation: Simon Mondo and Frank Jones, Heinemann – “African Writers Series”, 1973)

Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is unbent
This back that never breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying no to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up a new
springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty

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